In the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, God tells the Israelites living in Babylon “to seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7).

This is one of the most concise and compelling statements in all of Scripture concerning what God expects from His people with regards to the common good.  Not only does the Bible here affirm that there is such a thing as a common good—an idea that is, increasingly, under assault these days from both the left and the right—but, more importantly for our purposes, the Bible here also affirms that God’s people are to seek the common good of those societies in which they live.  There is a common good—and God expects us to contribute to it.

Our church’s commitment to Bless Charlotte rests on this biblical principle.  For more than 65 years now, Providence has found a home here on Randolph Road.  Charlotte is where we live.  What, then, does God expect from us?  Jeremiah 29:7 provides a straightforward answer: God expects us to seek the welfare of our city and enhance the common good here in Charlotte.

How we do this as a congregation is at the heart of our Bless Charlotte initiative and the partnership we are forming with Families Forward, a relatively new ministry organization in our city.

Our Bless Charlotte task force—Sarah Blackwell, Bill Brown, Staley Green, Dane Jackson, and Natalie Lodato—logged many hours listening, researching, surveying, praying, and strategizing together in order to discern both where and how Providence might best invest our resources to make the biggest positive difference in the welfare of Charlotte.  Many churches in our city are having this same conversation right now, each one trying to figure out where its great passion meets Charlotte’s great need.  For some congregations, that intersection is affordable housing. For other church congregations, it’s economic mobility.

What our Bless Charlotte task force discovered over the course of their discernment work was that ours is a two-fold passion: hunger and education.  Although the list of needs in our city is long, hunger and education are the two specific areas in which Providence wants to be deliberate and intentional about seeking the welfare of Charlotte.

Families Forward is walking along this same road, focusing its ministry efforts on addressing these two areas of great need.  By partnering with Families Forward, we will be able to multiply our effectiveness—combining our energies and talents and resources with those of other, like-minded citizens who share our desire to live in a city where no one is hungry and every child has access to a quality education.  Working together, we don’t have to start from scratch but, instead, can focus our attention on building relationships, equipping families with life skills, and lightening the loads of those struggling to make the difficult jump from poverty to economic stability while trying to raise, feed, and educate little ones.

What I like most about this partnership with Families Forward is the emphasis on reciprocal relationships—that is, the conviction that all of us have something to learn from, share with, and give to one another.  It’s not a one-way street running from giver to taker.  Instead—ideally—good neighbors bless each other.  Developing these kinds of life-giving, trust-driven relationships, however, takes time. It’s more of a marathon than a sprint, a point driven home by our task force in its presentations to the ministry staff, to the deacons, to the Coordinating Council, and to the congregation at the quarterly conference in August.

We do sprints pretty well.  Marathons?  They don’t come as easily to us.  Doing sustained, focused ministry over the long haul is something we’re going to grow into.  It will take time, but it will happen.

On page 15 of this edition of Connections, Sarah Blackwell, our community ministry intern, shares more practical information about what lies ahead as we begin working with Families Forward to Bless Charlotte in Jesus’ name.  She’s already introduced our students to what Families Forward is doing.  Throughout November, she’ll do the same for the rest of us.  There will soon be plenty of ways for all of us to put our gifts and talents to good use through Families Forward.

Everyone at Providence can do something to Bless Charlotte in this ministry initiative.  That’s been a priority of mine from the very beginning: Finding a partnership with a focused purpose and a broad platform that offers multiple ways for people of all ages, interests, and abilities to plug in.  Families Forward,
I believe, will be that ministry partner for us.  Working together, everyone can do something to seek the welfare of our city—and that’s good news for all of us who call Charlotte home.

May the peace of Christ be with you!