“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Missions?

This past weekend we held a prayer walk around the city where our church is located. It was a great opportunity to get out and walk ALL of the town... Our town is one that is heavily marked by alcoholism and drugs. Literally a liquor store on every corner, and even our church is located between several bars (including one that shares a wall with us!).

We were intentional in our placement of the church. This town, we felt, was in need of a church in our location. This is not to say that there are no other churches in town -- there are several very good churches, however we wanted to be part of the outreach to this community.

We have been in our location for four years, and it has been anything but dull. We jokingly call our church the 'Island of Misfit Toys'. We run the gamut from homeless folks to blue-collar families, bikers, metalheads, and just your normal folks in normal homes. It is quite humbling to stand behind the pulpit and look at all of these people coming to hear the Word of the Lord, sitting together, praying together etc.

We run on a budget that is razor-thin, and meet in a commercial strip mall, as I mentioned, that is located between bars. Yet, with all of the difficult, and often frustrating, work, I have to say that there is nowhere else I would rather be most Sundays. The people in the church love one another intentionally, and look out for one another -- we almost always have one unemployed person struggling, and it is not uncommon for them to find 'gifts' left at their front door, often by unnamed people who have as little as they have!

This past weekend we were able to provide one of our church members with a car. No, it was not a brand-new car; it had many miles on it, but we all got together and contributed money and surprised him on Sunday morning (he NEVER saw it coming)!

Where am I going with this? Well, first off, I just wanted to brag, (yes, I KNOW its a sin), about my congregation. This is a group of people who do not get bragged about a lot, and don't expect to have accolades written about them. They are just people living out their lives as Christians in some very difficult situations. And secondly, I wanted to make an observation.

Fairly near our area are several huge churches, one is within fairly close proximity. Now, my goal is not to vilify them, but to simply wonder aloud. When I look at the attendees at these churches, I am disappointed to see that most of their congregants come in from OUTSIDE the community in which they are located. It is interesting to see a line of upscale cars driving through a neighborhood that is unused to seeing them, and then heading into a valet-assisted parking lot, to attend church. Many of these people would be horrified to have to walk through the surrounding neighborhood to attend church!

I wonder -- do these people SEE those in the community around them? Or, are they simply enamored with attending a 'name' church? Maybe the church does things in the community, but for the life of me, I can't think of any things that they have been with us on. One example -- We asked them to join us in putting together a Hurricane Katrina Relief event. They ignored our request and went so far as to instruct their folks to ONLY give to church-approved groups! It seems that when they do things it is not with small, local churches but either alone with their name prominently displayed, or with a collection of other monster churches. And everything has a fee attached. I know, probably better than pastor X, that things cost money, but many of their events are placed outside the price-range of the people living in the very shadow of the monolithic buildings that dominate the area.

I feel that there is something wrong when a church is in a community, yet knows next to nothing about the community. I know, many would say that I am a small church pastor with building envy. I don't know, maybe I am, but I am not lusting over the size of these churches, I am wondering why they don't find a small church to partner with in their local community. We have several churches in our town which could use some assistance in reaching the surrounding community.

Why is it that we see, or hear about HUGE campaigns in these churches to 'reach the lost' in, say, Tanzania, or Madagascar, with the requisite advertising campaign and poster placements, yet they have no outreach to the crack mom down the street, or the shut-in older man who is a prisoner in his home? Is it because this is not a 'sexy' ministry? Or is it because they feel it is the duty of churches like ours to do that? I don't know, and I am not here to make the claim that I do.

I will be the first to tell you that an outreach church is a pain! You have to deal with a lot, people are damaged, and it is, at times, VERY difficult to minister to them. Maybe that is why the pastor at the monster church doesn't do a lot with the surrounding community. In all honesty, I understand; it is hard work, and I will not deny that. However, I think that Western Christianity is far too often a religion of convenience -- it is easier to give a big check to ministries in Tanzania than it is to go out and have a meth head scream obscenities at you as you deliver a case of food.

What I think would be helpful is this -- One of these churches pony up with a small local church and give them a hand up. Send volunteers out to help us distribute food, or reach some of the bleaker portions of our community. One of their tithe collections is probably more than a year of mine, so put a portion of a single collection towards working with a local church.

Now, with that being said -- there are several of us smaller churches who have begun to work together tightly. We have discussed preaching from each others pulpits, bringing in our worship teams and providing worship on some Sundays and sharing costs in several areas. The other pastors are wonderful men of God who are also passionate about reaching our community, and we are all very different, each of us come from a different cultural background, but all are focused on one thing -- preaching the Kingdom of God, and reaching the surrounding community.

I am in discussion with my friend Steve, and others over at Steve's Place regarding church structure. In many ways I agree with their assessment of church life as it stands today. Far too many churches have become institutions unto themselves and have become completely insular organizations. We may not agree on everything (who does?), but I hear the concerns they have, and even share many of them.

I do not have all the answers, I am not even sure I have ANY of the answers, but I do know that there is a growing need in our increasingly post-Christian world, for outreach right outside of our doorposts.

6 comments:

Steve Sensenig said...

Well, we certainly don't have all the answers either, but I am encouraged by the discussion. Thanks for sharing these insights into your church's activities. Your take is refreshing, and I am encouraged once again to pray for you as a partner in the Kingdom!

Be blessed, and keep the thoughts coming. And thanks for the link to my "place" :)

steve :)

Ray said...

Steve -- I am truly enjoying not only the discussion but the friendships that I am developing via the WWW.

One day maybe I will get up to the beautiful state of NC and visit!

Ray

Steve Sensenig said...

Please do! And I hope before too long to get back to the Big D, and if so, I will definitely visit. Haven't been back to Texas since Dec '04, though, unfortunately. :(

steve :)

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Good thoughts.

Ray said...

Thanks Matthew...

Bobby B. said...

Hi Ray. I read several of your posts and I think we would have quite a bit in common. I'm currently preparing to do a Passover for about 40 people on Fri. night. On Wed. night we plan to have one with just our family. I live just a couple of hours from Dallas and would be interested in visiting with you face to face someday. If you would be interested, send me an email. My email address is bobby2 at bdb7 dot com.