All pastors want their churches to be signs of hope—to embody configurations of trust too seldom found elsewhere. Yet in many communities people set out in hope but end up disappointed, dejected, and even cynical. Pastors spend a lot of time tending people’s difficult experiences and confounding people’s stereotypes of what hope can mean. Here are seven projections and assumptions that I face in my current context and responses that reflect what the church I serve is called to be.

First, it’s possible to be a church without being defensive and closed-minded. Jesus came that we might have life in all its glory. God made each of us as we are because God wanted one like us. God made us with minds and bodies, not just with wills and souls. God wants us to live before death as well as after. The Holy Spirit works as much beyond the church as within it. We’re called to be what only we can be but to want what everyone else can have as well.

Second, it’s possible to care for those who are ostracized or in trouble in a way that enhances rather than diminishes the community. There’s no true community without the enrichment and challenge that come from people whose face or migrant status or identity doesn’t fit. That’s because care comes not out of some self-important altruism but out of recognizing our own need and desiring to be transformed by the strangers God sends us. With them we acknowledge that each of us is a stranger too.