“How could a thousand volunteers help?” we asked our city leaders–and they pointed to struggling schools. So for nearly a decade now, we’ve been doing Love Portland, a day when our church blitzes local under-resourced schools with fresh paint and barkdust, flowers and wheelbarrows, time and attention and love–joining with friends from other local churches and our neighborhoods. While we love Portland a bunch of other ways year-round, this is a special day. And it provokes a question . . .
Why do we love our city?
If we forget the why, a danger is our motives can become shallow. For example, here are two common means-to-an-end motives:
- ATTRACTION: We could start to think our primary goal is to attract people to our church. We could tell ourselves, “when people see we’re nice and loving, they’ll want to come hang out with us.” Now, someone thinking you’re nice is not a bad thing, and I love it when new folks jump into following Jesus together with us. But even if they never came, would we still love? Does Jesus call us to love our city as a means-to-an-end of getting folks to like us or into our church? I would suggest no: Jesus calls us to a much deeper motive.
- FIXING: We could think, “We’re going to fix the Portland Public School crisis,” but we’ll be sorely disappointed. Because as every teacher, parent, or person with a newspaper knows, the problems facing our schools are astronomically bigger, deeper and wider than anything we could tackle on one day. As much as our schools have been blown away by the help received over the years, if fixing the school crisis is our measure for success, we’ll be sorely disappointed and burn out quickly.
So why do we do it then? Jesus told his followers:
Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.
Those destined to be kings are those who know how to love.
And Jesus lived the model. He practiced what he preached. Jesus bent down to wash his disciples’ feet. In those days, washing feet was one of the lowest jobs—when everyone walked around on dirty roads in sandals with sheep dung and dirt and grime between your toes. John Mark Comer captures the image well: picture your mayor lifting up a manhole cover and jumping down into the sewer system to say, “Hey guys! Let me take care of this.”((Loveology: God. Love. Marriage. Sex. And the never-ending story of male and female (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013) p.36))
The King of all the earth takes on the lowest job for himself—ultimately going to the cross to atone for the dirt, grime and dung of our sin, washing and cleansing us, reconciling us to God.
God is a servant.
And the gospel says when we serve, there’s something that happens inside of us. There’s a formation that occurs: we are formed, we are changed. We are shaped into the image of Jesus.
At Imago Dei, we are a community of practices. And one of our practices every year is Love Portland. It’s part of our annual rhythm, because every year it reminds us that God loves Portland, that God is a servant, and that when we bend our knee, get down & dirty, and love and serve our city, Jesus is shaping us as his people.
Love Portland is not an end in itself, it is a small signpost of a big kingdom; an annual rhythm that calls us to a way of life; a reminder that followers of Jesus are marked by dirty hands, calloused feet and love.
As the body of Christ, propelled by his Spirit of love, we are a community of servants. This isn’t just a project; this is what we do.
This is who we are.
We serve to follow in the dust of Jesus, our Great Servant, the One who has served us.
So on August 23rd, from 9am-1pm, we’re going to go out with rakes and shovels and paint and barkdust. And yes, the schools are going to be stoked. Yes, the kids who show up the following week are going to feel a different atmosphere in the place. Yes, there may be a great witness to our neighbors who may like our church.
But the thing I’m most excited about, most anticipating, most looking forward to, is this: that Jesus is going to continue forming us as his people–his body, his bride, his church, that loves his city.
To register, click here.
If you live in the Portland area and your church is interested in partnering with a local Portland Public School, check out the great CityServe website for resources and next steps.