5 Truths for Engaging the Pain Points of Your City

God has already placed everything that’s necessary to heal your community for His glory in your community.

Rich Gorman

Rich Gorman explores the five community dynamics critical to engaging what he calls the 5 P’s (Power, Pennies, Parties, Pain, Person of Peace). In the article below, Gorman focuses on the fourth P of pain and shares how he has learned to engage the pain points of their dense (roughly 300,000 people in three square miles) and diverse (a diaspora of Somalia, Burma, Bhutan, Bosnia, Russia, Nepal, Iraq, Latino immigrants, Euro-American and African-American communities, and LGBT community) area of Chicago.

I can’t say it enough: Everything that’s necessary to heal your community for God’s glory He has already placed in your community.

It’s that simple. And your primary job is to discover, uncover, connect and empower. This role affects how you talk about your city. Consider Mark 1, and how Jesus never gives the demons a voice.

“That evening at sundown they brought to Him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And He would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew Him” (Mark 1: 32-24).

In our own way, we often give the demons the loudest voice and the last word.

Here’s how it happens: If someone asks you about your city, do you lead with the positives or the challenges? All too often, I hear planters and leaders focus on the challenges, explaining how broken their city is and how desperate the city is for “the gospel” (translation: “my church”) and why God has brought them to the city to save the day. That’s how we do fundraising, right?

Yes, your city is broken, but it is also beautiful, and God has loaded it with potential to be healed for His glory.

Our Story

One of the great challenges in our area is gun violence. During our first year the more connected we got, the more we realized that others were equally grieved and angry about it. The people in the neighborhood had answers, but they just didn’t know how to effect change. Here’s why:

One of the challenges of the city is disconnection. We live in close proximity to one another, but there’s no real community, a lack of relationship and trust. So to begin cultivating healing, we knew we needed to help connect people to each another.

The alderman of our city’s ward asked us to help organize block-by-block listening parties, where we simply ask questions and hear concerns and answers. Through these meetings, we learned about a severe trust deficit between the police and the neighborhood. The kids did not trust the officers and the officers, not knowing the kids, had no compassion for them. The neighbors identified this as an area that needs to be addressed. So, we (meaning “the neighborhood”) organized multiple summer events where police officers and kids worked together, namely 3-on-3 basketball tournaments, soccer and other events. It was an incredible success! This community-connecting initiative began to bridge the gaps of misunderstanding and develop relationships. Catch this: It was not our idea. All we did was connect ideas, people, and resources and leverage them all for good and for God’s glory.

Through this engagement, we learned some profound truths you can apply in your context to engage your city’s or town’s pain points:

You’re not the expert. The people dealing with the challenges are the experts. They know how to meet the challenges. They don’t need you to do it. They need help, support, connection and permission. Let them educate you and, together, you can figure out how to actively address the issues.

People need care, too. Government programs are helpful in providing for the immediate needs, but bureaucracies can never deliver care. What people need, along with food, clothing and other immediate physical needs, is the need to belong and to be important. People need love.

Connection is key. Let’s say you meet 10 people who are sincerely concerned about an issue. That’s great!  Do they know each other? Connect them. Arrange a meeting where all of you can meet and discuss the issue and work on some next steps.

Arrive together. Working together can be slower and more complicated than just doing it by yourself. But going slower and engaging together with community members will always yield more lasting and deeper results.

Use your privilege for good. Let’s face it; if you’re white, male and educated, you are privileged. You have access to resources and credibility with officials that others may not have. This cultural dynamic is not pleasant or “right,” but it is very real, Leverage your privilege for good. Use it to advocate, develop connections and bridge the gaps that have been created by a class-based society drenched in racism and prejudice. If Paul used his Roman citizenship to his advantage, then you can sure use your privilege for the advantage of others.

How Do I Engage?

Usually, pain is easy to identify, but not always. That’s one reason why we rush to focus on the challenges and meet the needs. Focusing on the challenges is not altogether a bad thing. The challenges of our world are real, and we need to acknowledge them. We should never simply accept that we live in cities where poverty is on the rise, homelessness is common, children are hungry and gun violence is a daily affair. Our hearts should be broken by these things. Jesus has sent His church to love people and address these issues for his glory. But when we focus solely on the deficits, we undermine the mission on many levels.

Because for every deficit, there is an asset. For every hungry child, there are people working to feed them. For every act of violence, there are people who are tired of it and want to see change. For every area of challenge, there are areas of great strength.

Perhaps your job is not to address the challenges as much as it is to uncover, connect and empower the existing strengths.

This article is excerpted and adapted from the FREE eBook Just Step In: Joining God as He Heals Your City by Rich Gorman. Download it here.

About Rich Gorman

Along with teaching, coaching leaders and providing pastoral care at his campus, Rich champions many community development initiatives, including a partnership with a local nursing home, #ChalkTheBlock and serving alongside the 48th ward alderman to help restore God’s dream for Chicago.