Our witness before our neighbours matters. That is not just walking with integrity before them personally (though that surely matters too). But it means walking in such a way that we inevitably do good to them because of the gospel. It means serving our neighbours in real and practical ways so that, when they see the good works we do, we can point them to the gospel and they may give thanks to the true and living God who, because of his Son and in the power of his Spirit, we are compelled to do them.
Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. – Matthew 5:16
I have argued before that the current context in which we broadly find ourselves in the Western World means that the church can no longer rely on being seen as an inherently good thing. Time was, people thought the church was inherently good, even if they themselves weren’t overly interested in it. They might send their kids for a bit of good morals, or spiritual formation, because the church was essentially alright, just not of interest to them in particular.
That clearly is not the situation we are in anymore. These days, we are not seen as a basically good thing. Indeed, we are no longer even seen as an essentially harmless thing. Now we are broadly seen as a bad, problematic thing. The world now sees itself as the good and the church as opposing what it stands for. We are, at best, viewed with a large degree of scepticism by many.
I say that not in any sort of despairing way. Just as a point of fact. Most people don’t actively hate us, they broadly nothing us. But what they do know about us, or think they know about us, is often not positive. Which means we are starting from behind with many people. They aren’t chomping at the bit to hear our gospel message of salvation. Some think they’ve heard it all before (but we know they haven’t) or think they know what we’re about already and aren’t that keen.
This matters because, if we are starting from behind and cannot assume people will view us as an unmitigated community good, we have to show them before they engage with us that it is so. I am minded to think many churches who sit in their buildings and do very little in their communities but run the occasional outreach event are rightly viewed as not being much of a community good.