Lessons From a Hurricane: Learning to Love Our City
On August 27, Hurricane Harvey descended upon Houston, dumping 51 inches of rain in three days. Widespread flooding resulted, and the city was thrown into rescue, relief, and recovery efforts. Somewhat surprisingly, our church (Houston Northwest—HNW.org) received local and national attention for some of our efforts in the immediate aftermath. HNW members were featured on a number of media outlets wearing royal blue t-shirts emblazoned with #WeLoveHOU, serving their neighbors in a number of communities across the city, I was interviewed by some local and national media, and our church experienced an increase in recognition.
Afterwards, as we assessed, we attempted to derive some principles for city engagement that might help others who want to love their city in Jesus’ name. If you’re looking for ways to serve your city, you might enjoy the lessons we learned from a hurricane.
1. Make Serving Central To Your Church Identity
When Hurricane Harvey struck, we began serving immediately because we had already established that serving was part of our DNA. The Kingdom of God is our starting point, and we believe the Kingdom calls all believers to serve their neighbors. We wanted to “wash the feet” of our city, and we did so by going into flooded neighborhoods and ripping out sheetrock, carpet, and removing debris. This wasn’t something we had to debate, but this was the identity we had established over years of continual serving.
In fact, HNW has a slogan we use regarding our love of the city that we turned into a hashtag: #WeLoveHOU. We put it on shirts and stickers, and we live it out. When Harvey hit, we already had the shirts and stickers, because it was already who we were. If you want to capitalize when opportunities arise in your city, you must establish the identity of serving in little ways long before the big opportunity presents itself.
2. Relationships Matter
For years now, our church has been intentionally building relationships with other Kingdom-minded pastors and churches in the area. When Harvey hit, it was a disaster far too large for my congregation to tackle alone. While we certainly did work hard at HNW to provide as many relief services as we could, our true strength came in the relationships we had cultivated over time with other churches, because we could accomplish much more together than alone. As we started sharing resources, people, and ideas, the city was able receive relief much more quickly.
3. Play the Long Game
You may have noticed in the previous two points that we did those things “for years.” Kingdom-minded serving and relationship building is not an initiative or a campaign. It is not something that you do for a few months in conjunction with a sermon series. Too often we move on to the “next thing,” when the best thing is right in front of us—love your city in the name of Jesus and preach Him crucified. You must get a vision for your city that involves you being part of the city for years.
4. Get Prepared–Live Ready
No matter where you live, there are some disaster scenarios that are a bit more likely—forest fires, tornadoes, floods, etc. Take some time to think through the things that may need collaborative relief efforts in your city. Work with your team, other churches, and other organizations. At the same time, look for transferable principles that will allow you to tackle problems that already exist in your city. As you serve in those ways, you will build relationships that will serve you when something big shows up later.
That preparation will then, in turn, allow you to be ready to strike when you need to serve. One of the best things about preparation is that it allows you to act when the moment is right. It is good to get ready. But it is even better to live ready. If you can teach and train your congregation into the mindset, you will more easily engage when the moment arises.
5. Serve Everyone
Why? One of my church members saw a woman wearing a hijab in the grocery store and asked if her family needed any help after flooding. Her response? “No, a group of people from a church called HNW showed up and took over. They ripped up our carpet, carried out the wet sheetrock and insulation, and did everything we needed. I never knew that Christians felt that way about people of other faiths. If everyone knew that Christians loved like that, I think everyone would want to be a Christian.”
I think she’s on to something.
Steve has been the Senior Pastor of Houston Northwest Church since 2013. He is passionate about teaching the Bible, sharing who Jesus is, and looking for new ways to discover old truths. Steve was born and raised in Gainesville, Texas. He is a graduate of Hardin-Simmons University (B.A. in Bible; M.A. in Religion) and Baylor University (Ph.D. in Religion). During his time at Hardin-Simmons, Steve met his wife, Joy. They have two sons, Ben and Andrew. They have served together in youth, college, and adult ministry at churches in Texas, and now enjoy serving together alongside the staff, elders, and leaders of Houston Northwest.