Posts Tagged ‘Atlanta’

For Me, It’s Personal

May 12, 2014

Medi[4]By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – God’s story in ours. God is writing a story upon our lives, which ultimately reveals His glory, through our hands, heart and feet, to give hope, love, opportunity and purpose – in other words, dignity.

So I was humbled when a young woman told me, “Thank you so much for sharing about the topic of racism. I have never heard a white male speak about this and it was so refreshing.”

I was recently privileged to speak to about 80 college students – many of them from African-American, Asian or Latino descent but a majority white. To Atlanta they came, from Ohio State, Miami University and James Madison, to serve through the Medici Project, as an alternative Spring Break destination.

In 90 minutes during my eight-year (and going strong) journey with God to do inner-city work, I shared with the students about what we do through the basics of Dignity Serves curriculum and my experiences loving people who live on the streets.

It was a natural fit with the students at Medici, a non-profit that educates young people about the economic oppression of inner-city neighborhoods. Exposure to the realities of poverty can tap a multitude of compassion and service, beyond religious and culture boundaries.

The students eagerly leaned it to listen as I told them my story, one that is continually shaped, transformed by those around me. How did God choose a white farm boy from Bumpville, Pa., and plop me in the middle of an economically oppressed neighborhood in Atlanta?

I told them about my family, about my debilitating burnout from ministry, my eye-opening exposure to injustice in our world. And then I told them about men and women, so very different from me, who mentored and shaped my life through Polis and Dignity Serves.

Then, in the midst of sharing, I felt the tug of the Spirit to tell share what I have been learning from my friends and mentors of color, their spoken words a canvass of impressions about what it’s like to be a minority in our world.

Racism and white privilege are deeply personal, because as I have witnessed firsthand the way our culture typically perceives certain people of color. And I am not just talking about the way one race perceives another race.

I shared the pain of being with a friend of color in a restaurant that was predominantly white. The penetrating and hateful glares he endured from other patrons seared my soul as well as his. And I am indebted to pastors, mentors, and leaders of color who have heightened my awareness of such everyday indignities.

It was at this point that students who were minorities began to nod and to shoot up their hands in agreement.

Afterward, when a female student approached me to share how “refreshing” she found my views, I responded that I was honored to speak out. I have learned so much from my neighbors, who are predominantly African-American. I told her that I am honestly a better person because I have learned from a different culture, to appreciate the dignity of all people that often goes overlooked.

Daily, I see people I love affected by a prevailing attitude of superiority. That condescension violates God’s basic commandment, and I grieve.

So I encourage people from the majority culture to listen, to embrace and then to speak out. Listen to people who are hurt. Embrace the pain and frustration. Speak out at the appropriate times, when the Holy Spirit prompts you.

Be emboldened to give voice to others, to treat everyone with respect.

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain is a liaison/trainer for Polis Institute. He and his wife Adrienne and their family live in South Atlanta. He can be reached at dan@polisinstitute.org.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

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Sitting With the ‘Other’

January 27, 2014

Cross-Cultural Relationship

By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – My life has been richly blessed by sitting and learning from the “other.”

Who is an “other”? I define it as a person from a different background or culture or race. A person who has a different way of seeing the world, sometimes with priorities that we don’t share.

In some contexts I am the “other,” and I hope and pray that I am a blessing to people with backgrounds different from my own.

I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by “other” people my entire life. A black pastor in Grand Rapids was very influential in my life. He spoke at our large white mega-church and took the time to share breakfast with me. An African-American professor and mentor graciously met with me monthly during seminary to discuss questions about race and ministry in low-income neighborhoods. Authors such as Soon-Chan-Rah, an Asian-American, challenged me profoundly. So, did Janice, a white lady who lives in the increasingly diverse Holden Heights neighborhood of Orlando.

So many good people in Atlanta have taught me so much and blessed me so richly.  In particular, there is Victor, who has become a good friend and partner in our ministry. Victor is black, and his experiences about race and racism in our culture have riveted me in many wonderful and rich conversations. He has pushed and guided me, and sometimes made me uncomfortable as a white male.

Victor’s rich life experiences are so different than mine. He grew up in low-income neighborhoods in Cleveland. I grew up on a farm in Bumpville, Pennsylvania. Although we have such different contexts and upbringings, we share a relationship of mutual trust and respect.

Why? Because we are committed to sit with each other. This typically occurs over lunch. In sitting together, we face each other and share not only our differences but also our commonalities.

This is why I think it’s important to pay attention with whom we sit.  If we spend time with only people just look like us, we reinforce our particular worldview, and there is no opportunity for reconciliation.

When we sit together, we talk and we listen to each other.

America is divided racially and culturally, and sometimes I fear the divide is growing even wider. What gives me hope is engaging in ongoing conversations where the “others” sit together.

When we make our assumptions about another culture or race in a vacuum, it’s dangerous. It is particularly dangerous to let “news” on TV define a whole culture or race.

This is why it is good to sit with each other. It allows us to begin a conversation with people. This is the starting point for reconciliation, for understanding and for friendship.

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain is a liaison/trainer for Polis Institute. He and his wife Adrienne and their family live in South Atlanta. He can be reached at dan@polisinstitute.org.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

I Stopped Going to Church

November 6, 2013

By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – Recently I had a conversation with a neighbor who lives on the streets in our community. I invited my friend to our church’s Sunday morning service.

He informed me that he had stopped going to church six years ago. He had grown weary of the politics and people looking down on him. So he stopped going.

I then told him that I had stopped going to church, too. He gave me a very curious look, as he knows that I am one of the pastors at the church in our community.

I shared with him that the version of church to which he was referring is most likely what many people call the “institutional” church. Such churches care more about their programs, their building and looking cool than they do about being a force for good in the specific community where they find themselves.

I am more interested in recruiting people into God’s kingdom than trying to fill the pews of our small urban church. I believe that if people see God’s kingdom, they will meet the master of the kingdom, Jesus. Then they will understand that Jesus has wired them to be in community around Him. And then ideally they will understand that for some reason this king has tasked the church to represent him here on Earth.

When I think of “church,” I think of a group of individuals called by Jesus to gather around the preaching of the word, taking the sacraments, share in community together, and moving out toward our neighbors. I think of people who I know and they know me, and the common bond we share in Christ. I think of people who know my junk and call me out on it. I think of people who know of the image of God that I bear and how God glories in me.

I rarely think of a building or even place. It’s not that I am against building or precise locations to worship, but we as North American Christians have grown too consumed with bricks and mortar and their upkeep. I believe that having an extremely nice place to meet unintentionally feeds a little bit of the need for control and security that so dominates American culture.

I was a part of a church for four years, which had what the pastors called “gray chairs.” These chairs were plastic and not very comfortable seats. The pastor continually reminded the congregation that the gray chairs served as reminders that the action was not “in the building,” in was out there beyond the four walls. The action was in the community, in the neighborhood, and among people experiencing distress.

Bob Lupton’s book “Toxic Charity” defines the difference between churches, which are “church-centric” versus “community-centric.” Church-centric congregations do everything to build themselves up. Community-centric congregations do everything for the benefit of their community. I personally believe effective loving on behalf of Jesus require both/and. A church must exist to benefit the neighborhood around it. If a church is doing its work properly, people will experience reconciliation through and in Christ and will be a part of the church.

So, I have stopped going to the institutional church and instead I gather with people who are committed to Christ, myself and loving our community in the best ways we know how. We are humbly learning what it means seek the good of our neighborhood through Christ. If our church were to move or stop meeting, I would want our neighborhood to grieve and plead with us not to abandon meeting and blessing this place. I would want our neighborhood to genuinely miss us because we no longer would be there.

I hope and pray that this becomes true of the church of North America. I hope and pray we all stop going to the institutional form of church and instead join God’s movement of called-out individuals to seek Christ’s kingdom here and now in order to bless the place we find ourselves in.

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain is a liaison/trainer for Polis Institute. He and his wife Adrienne and their family live in South Atlanta. He can be reached at dan@polisinstitute.org.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

My Way Is Best: Learn, Listen, Join

July 29, 2013

By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – When I interned with Focused Community Strategies (FCS Urban Ministries) five years ago, I remember going to the local YMCA to play ball, and I realized I was the only light-skinned person in the gym.  I loved it.

Today, in our community in South Atlanta, my family is, without exception, the minority.

I grew up accustomed to being on top. I have learned this is  “white privilege, from my brothers and sisters of color:  When someone with a whiter complexion shows up to a meeting, it typically means the whiter person takes charge.

So how does this work for this particular white male and his family, who recently moved into a predominantly African American neighborhood?

I have asked my indigenous neighbors in South Atlanta this question. Their responses have been refreshing and enlightening.

Some of our neighbors, particularly those grew up in the community, say, “There goes the neighborhood” when white people move in. Others are excited and are thrilled when white people move in. They welcome the arrival as an injection of new life.

People ask me how I respond. I reply, “I learn, listen and join.”

When you pursue inter-cultural relationships, you must be eager to learn, to glean life experiences from the people who have lived in the community before you. When you learn, you are humbled. Upon asking one African American leader in our community what leaders of color seek, she replied with one word: respect. When you are willing to learn, you communicate respect to those who have gone before you.

It is equally important to listen. When you listen, you communicate (show) that you don’t know what’s best. Listening means you are not there to force your dominant culture on others. Listening means you are authentic. My friends in our neighborhood can immediately spot who is authentic and who is not. They know who is there to “help,” who is there in friendship. You see, my friends hate being “helped.” If someone is there only to help, this person insults and demeans my neighbors.

Finally, living inter-culturally is a commitment to God, to join in His restoration of that specific place. It is important to ask: What aspects of my dominant culture does God ask me to give up in order to live authentically in this new culture?  This is profound, as there is not a day when I am not aware that I come from a dominant culture.

When I experience resistance from my new neighbors, I remember that their trepidation has nothing to do with who I am as a person. Instead, it has everything to do with the cultural baggage I could carry from the dominant culture. As one African American friend, who just got his PhD, reminded me, “We are one generation away from segregation and Jim Crow laws.”

So I listen, and I listen closely. Listening means that I may be wrong.

And when people are hesitant toward me as a white person who wants to be a friend, I learn patience. I slow down until they invite me in. But I never stop moving. Jesus always moved first. As reconcilers of the Gospel, we are called to move first, too, and to keep moving until genuine relationships unfold.

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain is a liaison/trainer for Polis Institute. He and his wife Adrienne and their family live in South Atlanta. He can be reached at dan@polisinstitute.org.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

Affirming the Dignity in Others

June 13, 2013

By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – Three and a half years ago, when I first started to intern with Polis, a 180-degree paradigm shift transformed my culture of service toward people in need. At this time, I was privileged to lead a Bible study at a ministry for people on the streets.

One of the principles we try and teach through Polis is that everyone has something to give. Everyone has a talent to offer. I began to experience this for the first time, and to live it out with people in distress. It was mind blowing, to say the least, that this is not only about what I have to offer, but about what everyone has to give me People who serve typically think in only one realm: to be a hero who rescues people.

At that point, Polis was in the midst of redesigning its website. We wanted a picture to capture what we’re about. So, that week at the homeless ministry, I made an announcement before I began the Bible study. I asked: Are there any artists who would be willing to draw a picture?

Two hands immediately flew into the air. After the study, we went into a separate room, and I told them what we needed at Polis. They fetched paper and pens and immediately started to draw a picture. The woman started to cry. She was overcome with joy, realizing that she had a God-given talent to help someone else. She drew a brilliant picture.

Our other friend was working diligently by himself in the corner. He didn’t talk much but when he was done he had drawn this . . .

Homeless picture

Amazing.

What I love is the detail in the fingers. You could tell the man took pride in his work. After he was done, he thanked me for the opportunity to share his gift.

Living in a low-income neighborhood, having the privilege to interact with people experiencing poverty, now is a joy. One of the greatest joys is to affirm the dignity of people by inviting them to serve me with the gifts and talents that God has given them.

Our homeless friends on the corner have helped me move. One 70-year-old retiree, living with his granddaughter, has helped me paint our new house. One of our friends from church helps me when go out Friday mornings to visit people in our community. He and I pray with them.

I am finding a common denominator when people in distress are invited to help: They thank you. And then they thank you. And then they thank you again. They thank you for allowing them to give back. In reality, they thank you for affirming their dignity before God.

We all desire to be needed. We just don’t realize that people in need want to be needed.

Too often, we assume that because they are poor or homeless, such people need our help. People who desire to help in our neighborhood are surprised when they meet our friends who are so talented and gifted. They expected to encounter people who need their help

We all need each other to bring God’s kingdom here on Earth. Lord, give fresh sight and determination to make this reality, no matter where we live.

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain is a liaison/trainer for Polis Institute. He and his wife Adrienne and their family live in South Atlanta. He can be reached at dan@polisinstitute.org.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

What Feeds Your Soul?

March 19, 2013

By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – February 1, 2004, was a game-changer. That day, God asked me to step down from ministry.

It was my first ministry experience, and it ended badly. Without delving into details, three pastors resigned from the church. The resignation letters were read from the pulpit that Sunday morning.

I was one of three.

I vividly recall sitting in pew, beside my future wife, surrounded by students I loved for almost three years. Tears streamed down my face. How had this happened? I had graduated from one of the best Bible colleges in the country; I had interned at a mega-church with a thriving youth ministry; I had built this small youth ministry whose numbers had grown fourfold.

Amid my tears, I realized that, after journeying to the depths of my soul for seven years, I needed the ministry more than the ministry needed me. I was struggling mightily with something called co-dependency.

Codependency is defined: “to be dependent with.” Allow me to sum it up more simply:  People (like me) need something.

I needed ministry to feel safe. Ministry had defined me. I found validation and acceptance in being a pastor. A minister.

Consider this question: Maybe I need _________ more than that _________ needs me?

That Sunday in February, Jesus called me out of ministry by calling me to Himself.

We all do it. We find validation and acceptance in things or possessions or people – jobs, cars, clothes, relationships with spouses or “soul mates,” children, or friends.

What would happen if Jesus decides to strip away these things or people? Would we be able to function? Remember that Jesus said, “Leave everything and follow me.”

A counselor friend, who knows my journey and speaks into my pain, continues to challenge me to “hold ministry loosely.” Without an ongoing recognition of my emptiness, I can quickly succumb to temptation. My temptation is how ministry validates me and feeds me.

This is why I love the way Paul opens his letter to the Ephesians. Verse 3-10 contains three long sentences, specifying what Christ has done for us. Paul’s words are:

  • “Spiritual blessings in Christ”
  • “He chose us in Him”
  •  “Adoption to sonship”
  • “In Him we have redemption“
  • “He made known to us”
  • “He purposed in Christ”

That’s how Christ defines us. He feeds our soul. Not ministry. Not positions. Not relationships.

Nothing external can ever provide that for which our soul longs.

The answer is Christ, and Christ alone.

How do you define yourself?

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain is a liaison/trainer in South Atlanta for Polis Institute. He can be reached at dan@polisinstitute.org.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

Looked over

October 30, 2012

By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – There are many people in our culture who do not have the same opportunities and platforms to speak that others enjoy. Yet God has given goodness and talents to everyone.

I love it when people who often times are  “overlooked” by the world help mold and shape me as a person.

For example, some ministry leaders with whom I serve often talk about how frustrating it can be when people from outside our neighborhood visit and express such alarm when they discover goodness or rich talents among the our neighbors who live here. They are downright surprised.

I suspect people have their eyes opened because too often many of us are not willing to listen. Think about how many times people return from mission trips and say that they “received” so much more than they “gave.” Maybe the consistency of such revelations takes root because too many people are not willing to listen. They see the world only for what they can give, and not how other people can serve them with their unique talents.

One young man I am mentoring has taught me much about poverty and the realities of our neighborhood. Recently, he commented that the talents of people who live at or below the poverty level fail to be noticed. Their gifts are looked over. This is why I believe so strongly in asset-based ministry. We serve, expecting only to uncover what God is already doing in forgotten people and neglected places – and we strive to empower them.

The vision of Polis is such that, “We believe that well-being will improve only when the talents of the poor are properly engaged.” When you improve the well being of people on the margins, whole cities improve.

Unfortunately, some churches are stuck in a groove – a mind-set – that more “charity” will improve the well being of the poor. The truth is, most people who live in poverty don’t want more shoes, more clothes, more food, or to have their rent paid. They yearn for opportunities for their talents to be engaged. They need respect. As one sign says, “I don’t want your coins, I want change.” No one likes to be a charity case. Why do we expect anything different among the poor?

Do we really love our neighbors as ourselves by just giving things to them? Loving our neighbor as ourselves requires much more than charity. It involves relationships that typically get dirty very quickly.

Charity proves only to hurt, not help, the poor. Instead, we need to engage their talents. Given the freedom of transparency, many people on the fringes, the down-and-out, would tell churches: “Thanks for helping, but what if the way you helped was done in the best way possible?”

What if those who hold the power and resources and are in the position to help, served in such a way that did not look over the talents of the poor?

Dan and Adrienne Crain and their family. Since this photo, they've been blessed by the arrival of twins, Eden Violet Alliene and Isaac Levi Keith.

Dan and Adrienne Crain and their family. Since this photo, they’ve been blessed by the arrival of twins, Eden Violet Alliene and Isaac Levi Keith.

Dan Crain is a liaison/trainer in South Atlanta for Polis Institute. He can be reached at dan@polisinstitute.org.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

A Day In The Life: 2 Worlds in Atlanta

September 23, 2012

By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – I really love what God has called us into. As many of you know, I am a pastor/trainer/neighbor, leading “the church” (people) into living a life of giving and receiving with everyone we interact with. Through joining, listening and living interdependently with residents of an at-risk community, I see the ways in which God is at work.

Here’s an example of a good day, in two worlds

I was working in the office space I rent from in our neighborhood. I grew hungry and decided to return home to grab a bite before  my next appointment.

As I pulled into our driveway, I noticed a neighbor I am getting to know as he sat next to the large oak tree. He lives in and watches the vacant homes in our neighborhood. He’s a watchdog so thieves don’t strip the homes of copper rain gutters and pipes. (There’s quite a market for copper, which people sell to survive).

The neighbor and I exchanged greetings as I walked into the house. But I wasn’t far beyond the threshold when I felt the Spirit tell me: “Go and share your lunch with him.” In the kitchen, I heated up lunch and walked outside with two full plates – not before my wife asked me, “What are you doing?”

We shared lunch together for 10 minutes, and we talked. He shared about his life and his periods of homelessness. But we also talked about family and his three daughters. Bob Lupton says, “A relationship built on need will always be pathological.” I tried not to focus his need, but to learn what he enjoys and is good at. A good friend said, “The closer we get to treating everyone as family, the closer we get to how Jesus wants us to serve people in need.”

I spoke to this neighbor about church, and I shared more than its location – I offered an invitation. As a Pastor in an under-served neighborhood, I can point people on the streets in the direction of the church. “Come, be a part of our community,” I say. Then I asked my neighbor how I could pray for him, and I told him how he could pray for me.

When we had finished, I hopped into my car and drove out of the neighborhood to one of the more affluent neighborhoods in Atlanta. I had an appointment with someone who is interested in becoming a trainer in our Dignity Serves curriculum.

We talked about the same subjects as I did with my homeless friend; struggles with life, family, living inter-dependently, and the huge potential God have placed in our lives. Both people in such different neighborhood circumstances have huge value and dignity. I am learning to appreciate both and have the same kinds of conversations with people regardless of their apparent need.

It was a good day in two worlds.

Dan and Adrienne Crain and their family. Since this photo, they've been blessed by the arrival of twins, Eden Violet Alliene and Isaac Levi Keith.

Dan and Adrienne Crain and their family. Since this photo, they’ve been blessed by the arrival of twins, Eden Violet Alliene and Isaac Levi Keith.

Dan Crain is a liaison/trainer in South Atlanta for Polis Institute. He can be reached at dan@polisinstitute.org.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

Needing Others Well

September 12, 2012

By Dan Crain

ATLANTA — Scripture is clear: We need to lead honest and vulnerable lives in community, to confess our needs and to bear our burdens together. Yet how do we live out that command without “getting messy”? Or what if we don’t follow His command at all?

As Americans, we like to project an image of “having it all together.” We build walls or summon a force field to insulate ourselves from others.

We all know people who are eager to confess their needs to anyone willing to listen. I have done that, and sometimes still do. That’s emotionally messy. What I have realized is that it takes time – often a long time – to earn the trust and respect of people with whom we share.

And we also know people who guard their hearts. They live with deep, emotional scars. They erect walls around their lives. They don’t need anyone to help them.

So when Paul ends his letter to the church in Philippi, “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus,” what does this mean in this context?

Let me offer some of my thoughts from my struggle through this idea:

God is the one who meets needs. I cannot. You cannot. We cannot. God is the “need-meeter.” No one and no thing in the world can “meet “needs like Him. Christ and only Christ can meet our longings for significance, security, satisfaction and belonging.

Yet to the extent that I am individualistic and focus solely on my relationship with God, I still am called to live in community with you. God commands us to live together.

This nugget of Paul’s wisdom especially resonates with me: “Not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only.”

There is so much meaning packed into those 14 words. Paul models a special kind of relationship, with this church being “partners in the gospel,” “suffering together” and “sharing of the same spirit.” Then he ends the letter by linking giving and receiving. Giving and receiving can be achieved only in the context of community as we give as well as receive.

So who really empowers the giving and receiving? God. So if I don’t confess my needs to you and pretend that I have it all together, whose help do I really refuse? God’s. He works through us, sometimes despite us, to meet our needs.

God’s intention for us to confess our needs compels us to realize that He is the only one who can meet our deepest desires to belong, to gain acceptance, to know security (peace). With that realization, we can confess our needs to one another, and appreciate that it is a two-way street. Confessing our needs to one another reminds us of where our deepest desire for belonging, acceptance and security can be found.

This is the beginning of Christian community.

Dan Crain and family.

Dan Crain and family.

Dan Crain is a liaison/trainer in South Atlanta for Polis Institute. He can be reached at dan@polisinstitute.org.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

Saved From the Addiction to Change in People

July 26, 2012

By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – So I have been on this urban ministry journey for about 2½ years now – not long, but time enough to observe interesting things and to experience moments of pure joy, not to mention complete bewilderment and frustration.

I find it  discouraging when people into whose lives I pour myself make bad decisions. Or they don’t show up for meetings. Or they don’t seem to care.

I wrestle with myself, asking: Why are we doing this? Does what God has called us into make any difference?

I find that when we attach ourselves to change, we quickly burn out.

This was my experience during four years of youth ministry life. People would “change” – for example, decide to follow Jesus – and I would get excited and hopeful. Eventually they would return to their old habits, addictions and behaviors, and I would be discouraged. My identity was attached to the changes they had made in their lives. This indicated a tendency on my part to be codependent. I found myself deriving meaning and purpose from the change in people.

I am slowly learning to detach myself from this sort of change. Do I want and long for change, for people to turn their lives around and embrace God? Absolutely! As Christians, the spirit within us yearns for this world to be different. Paul speaks of this in Romans 8, when Creation “groans for redemption. “

There are beautiful moments that inspire joy. For example, our house is strategically located on a corner where lots of people walk by. We are often in our back yard, playing baseball with our kids. Not long ago, my son Landon hit a ball over the fence, into the street. Upon retrieving it, I ran into a neighbor I have been getting to know.

Todd and I stopped to talk. He proceeded to tell me how much he enjoys watching us play as a family. Our backyard ball games make him long for his family back in Charleston, S.C. He reminisced of going to the beach, of deep-sea fishing, of the job he had with his family. He expressed his desire to return home.

As we stood in the street, the wind gently blew at our backs. I considered it a reminder from God that His spirit is constantly moving.

As Todd and I continued chatting, one of the young adults in the neighborhood stopped by the house to drop off a reference letter for the summer camp our church puts on. He has incredible potential but has been wrestling with direction in life. Attending the camp is a good next step for him, as it is a great avenue for training young leaders.

Before Todd and I parted ways, we prayed for one another. We were in agreement that we are not here to “save” people, and that we probably need more “saving” than most people do.

It was in this moment we realized “this is not why we do what we do.” We do not love people or develop friendships because we want them to change.

Any change is up to God. Instead, we do what we do because God has called us to be faithful in the small things, to be good neighbors. We are called to show up again and again and again.

God is the author of change, not us. God cares more about changing this world and redeeming all things far more than I ever will.

Living with this awareness allows me to hold change very loosely.

Dan Crain and family

Dan Crain is a liaison/trainer in South Atlanta for Polis Institute. He can be reached at dan@polisinstitute.org.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.