I have often thought back to a meeting one afternoon with the "consultant" in regard to attendance. The church was at its lowest point in my tenure. I was desperately trying to figure out what our church could do in the midst of decline, and a neighborhood we seemed not to match up with. The "consultant" told me to build a church with the affluent and let the affluent minister to the non-affluent. The key in all of it, though, was that our main worship service was going to primarily only serve the affluent. Part of me still cringes a little bit inside, not because of what he said, for perhaps I misunderstood, but because there was a time period in my ministry I actually listened and started trying to put it into practice.
Scripture is clear throughout that ministry is not done by the rich to the poor, it is not done by the educated to the uneducated. Ministry is done from the redeemed, washed in the blood, former sinner now Saint, to the lost world all around him or her, and to the fellow believers that God has put in our path.
As a church leader working in a tough neighborhood, we must not see those outside our walls as projects that need fixing. We must see them as desperately lost people in need of a savior, and potential fellow ministers in the quest to expand the Kingdom. I love getting new insight into scripture from others and I found a great insight into Isaiah 61 from Ali Hearon, of the Texas Baptists Christian Life Commission.
All of us have read Isaiah 61 verse 1 through the first part of verse 2 because it was quoted by Jesus in the New Testament speaking of himself. Perhaps we have heard it said in wanting to be like Christ, we, too, should proclaim good news to the poor and this would be a true statement. However what we must note about this passage is two very important points.
First, we are the poor Jesus speaks of. No matter where we find ourselves on the economic scale, without Christ we were once the impoverished spiritually speaking. Second, we need to go back to Isaiah 61 and read all the way to verses 3 and 4. In verse 3, we are told to remember all of us are going to be as strong as oaks. Then, in verse 4, we are told that the poor are going to be the people who restore the ruined cities, and the places that have been long devastated.
That means that the people around your church, the ones that you may think literally have no hope--the ones who are putting the graffiti on your property and breaking into cars in the parking lot--have the potential to minister right alongside you as you restore both your church and the community.
For at this moment, they may be the poor as all of us once were, but one day they may be the Mighty Oaks restoring the Kingdom around you. They have the potential to become leaders, pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers, and productive members of your church. Never forget this great truth, and when they begin to come and find the savior make sure you have ways that they can minister right alongside you. Make sure that you have ways they can lead out in those ministries, and make sure that when they are ready you are ready to follow them in ministry leadership.
One of the joys of being a pastor in Oak Cliff was to support and watch the ministry of The Well Community, a church founded to minister to the mentally ill. The church gets a great deal of good press for ministering to the mentally ill population in a part of Oak Cliff that is considered a mental health corridor.
They had a free meal as part of Saturday night worship, a community center mid-week, a yearly retreat, and many other activities. Yet, The Well did not stop there, they went on to make sure these precious people were not excused from the call of God to minister themselves. It was an incredible joy to see them ministering, serving meals, leading Bible studies, leading music, working in the main church office of both The Well and even in the traditional mother church. The leaders of The Well did not have the idea that ministry was done for people they knew that ministry was done with people.
Here are some important questions that are asked when you are ascertaining whether the ministry you are doing has the potential to involve everyone.
1. Does this ministry have leadership and participatory components that a person at any level of education, spiritual maturity or intelligence plug into? Obviously, as to not cast embarrassment on people, you do not want to specifically define these in recruiting for the opportunities, but you do want to, as the leader, make sure when you are creating a new ministry that everyone has a chance to be involved.
Another question to ask a year or two into these new kinds of ministries:
2. Does the leadership of ministry now involve people that originally were in the community and not in the church? This is important to note because if your church is reaching, and discipling new people then your ministry leadership will eventually start to reflect the community around it. This is not an attempt to put quotas on ministry leadership, this is simply asking the question, does your evangelism and discipleship eventually lead to your ministry looking like your community?