Engaging lostness: Lessons learned in San Francisco

By Shauna Pilgreen

Ministry in San Francisco has been better and harder than I expected. Better because it’s not my message nor my method. Harder because it’s not my message nor my method. I call the city by the bay, the second most densely populated land, the most expensive place in America, my home. The nations live here. Subtitles around the city are in Spanish and Mandarin. What happens in this city has global effects. Chances are high that you’ve pinned, tweeted, googled, dressed in Gap brand clothing, or used your Apple device today. That’s the creative culture God has me in.

It’s better and harder because it’s the people that I want to experience the love of Jesus. I want it so much for them. I want it for them more than they want it. And until they want it, I will wait. I will establish myself as a dual citizen in this land. I will keep sharing His message among His people in this city by the bay.

While our cultures might be different from one another, I’m sure there are some similarities. Here’s what I’m learning about the San Francisco people and faith:

  1. There is no cultural advantage to being a Christian here.
  2. It takes time and time matters so much.
  3. Church doesn’t always translate initially, but citizenship does.

My culture tolerates everything. Welcomes everything. We are a sanctuary city. You can wear your sari here, your head wrap, your mullet and your Halloween costume. You can even be a Christian here. I can share my beliefs and values and am expected to respect everyone else’s beliefs and values. While this may be true, what is also true is the culture highlights diversity and minority groups. Christianity is not included though it’s a minority.

I want my city to see what I see. If Christ is in me, then I can be me and lift Him up so that’s what they see. We have a saying in our home: Be you. Don’t hide you. Be you. There is an advantage to being real, though. No one is making up where they go to to church or where their membership is. They’ll tell you they go or don’t go and when they go and why they don’t. Fake doesn’t work in my culture, but real sure does. So I’m learning to stick to His message of love and freedom and grace and truth and I’m using the method Jesus used with Zacchaeus and the Samaritan woman, the beggar and the blind. It won’t be an excuse I use that I can’t share or make the culture understand. Rather, I will latch on to what speaks and that is authenticity and love.

I want time to move fast in much of life, but you and I both know that when time works like it is intended to, beautiful wonders happen. Pregnancy. Seasons. Healing. Grief. Relationships. I am learning that what I can share with a friend of five years is different than what I can share with someone I’ve just met. I continue to walk life with a unbelieving friend in the city as we raise kids. She knows my story. She knows about the God that has changed everything for me. She knows she can call on me for anything. Time has proven that. Trust comes with time. Time allows us to demonstrate Christlike qualities and build that trust. And Christians should be the most trustworthy in any relationship.

“But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (2 Peter 3:8) So my “Christian” tendencies are to rush what God is doing, but rather I must be about what God is doing.

“And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Lightblub moment: our cultures won’t know we are Christians because we go to church, but because we interact during the week and our love leads the way in our actions and conversations. When we can chat about school, weather, what we’ve seen come into the city and neighborhood, we should sound like citizens. Christians should be the most attuned to the culture. Christians should be the best citizens. Yes, our being a part of a church should flow into conversation, but so should our care and love for the people not in the church. This translates that we’ve got a broader vision that is not restricted within the walls of a church building.

What is true about my culture and your culture is this — you must step outside the church to embrace the culture God has called you to serve and to love. You won’t know how to reach your city simply from looking outside the church walls. Put yourself where they are. I’m learning that it’s suppose to be messy. I’d rather come to Jesus a mess than with a bag of excuses for not spending time with my community.

Published November 27, 2017

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Shauna Pilgreen

Shauna is married to Ben Pilgreen, pastor of Epic Church in San Francisco, CA. They have busy 3 boys and are in process of adopting a precious girl from India. Shauna loves exploring her city, engaging in her community, and encouraging women. Join her on her blog at ShaunaPilgreen.com where she shares how their family lives out the Gospel in the place they call home.