Engaging the Decision Makers of your City
Beginning late last year, I made a commitment to meet with the men and women who are the decision makers in our city of Conway. I made this decision after some reflection on Nehemiah and how he engaged the king about the condition of Jerusalem. Nehemiah’s connection to the city is due to his ancestry but it also is relational. The condition of the city and by extension its people was an emotional burden to this cup bearer turned city renovator who was committed to reestablishing both the peace and security of his city. He made the decision to engage the major decision maker on behalf of his people and city, eventually restoring walls that God himself would eventually pass through.
Christians that are seeking to renew their city through their local churches and non profits must consider ways in which they can engage the decision makers of their city. Engagement is vital on two levels: 1) These men and women carry great influence in policies, finances, city development, transportation and quality of life issues; 2) the men and women that Christians are seeking to serve do not exist in a vacuum. The above areas impact their lives directly. Therefore, it is vital that we pursue discussions in both worlds, seeking to be mediators.
Now some may voice that, “Christians simply need to preach the Gospel.” We should be vigilant about addressing the spiritual conditions of individuals and families, leaving these other issues to persons who are educated and/or elected to do so. This line of reasoning though is simply false. While I agree that the Gospel is the primary message of the Christian faith, we do not live as dualist. Men and women, exist in a world that is as much natural as it is spiritual and therefore, it is incumbent upon Christians not to retreat to the halls of spirituality but bring that reality into contact with the world they exist in.
So what are some things to consider as you engage the “kings” of your city?
Be vigilant in meeting with decision makers
Take time in your schedule and carve out time in which you will meet with one or two of the decision makers in your city. You can start this process by identifying every elected official who represents the area in which you are serving the Gospel. Your local county clerk will have this information immediately available for you. In addition to the elected officials, determine what businesses and banks have the greatest foothold. These are the places where money flows in and out of the city. Set up meetings with these individuals and build a relationship with them.
I would recommend meeting with these decision makers at least twice in the year. Meet them in their community and invite them to meet you where you serve at. Why? We each gain an understanding of the context in which we work, live and play in. We additionally keep the decision makers aware that there are communities that exist which have been forgotten and not considered in larger plans.
Identify common ground, problems and solutions
Now this maybe startling, but Christians can find common ground with decision makers of the city who are not Christians. King Artaxerxes and Nehemiah both agreed that the condition of Jerusalem needed to be improved. Their reasons surely differed, political for the former and religious for the latter, yet they stood on common ground. We can find common ground as citizens in a city even as we are citizens of different cities. People can agree that all persons should have adequate food, clothing, shelter and work. People can agree that crime should be addressed and beauty brought to deteriorated areas. Identifying common ground will naturally lead us to speaking about the problems that we see. Christians have to be the voice for those whose voice is resisted and in some cases silenced. Many Christians in America have been blessed with the resources to have their voice ring loud and clear in their community. Those same resources should be used to amplify the voices of those who are not heard. Their whispers for aid, relief and restoration should echo like the shout in a canyon for all in the city to hear and take notice. This leads us to the last area, solutions. The decision makers in the city are looking to hear solutions. Offering solutions means that we have not only identified a problem but we have done the hard work of coming up with solutions that will benefit the entire city.
Offer yourself as both a voice and asset
As I previously mentioned, Christians in local church and nonprofit work are to be voices that courageously and graciously add to the discussion of the direction of their city. If we will not be willing to engage the decision makers in matters of the city, especially regarding the poor, our work will all that much harder. So you are not only an asset to the persons you serve but you are an asset to the city, being the type of mortar that will hold the streets and homes of many people together.