My wife and I were talking before bed a few nights ago. We were reminiscing about the day and she told me about one of the neighborhood kids that had come to our house. Now, it’s not unusual for a neighborhood kid to have made their way into our house. But today, there were several. So, we have a rule at our house: we read before we get any screen time. And because we treat the kids that come over the same as our kids, they were reading with her too.
The short version of this story is one of the kids that was over was the same age as one of our kids. As she read reading with him it became obvious he was significantly behind in his reading skills. SIGNIFICANTLY. Then she moved on to another great ministry opportunity that our daughter had as she walked one of the kids from our house back to theirs. It was obvious that the day was full of both need and ministry opportunities.
And that’s what got us talking. I stood their, almost in shock. I’ve told many friends about the ministry opportunities we see in our lower income, struggling neighborhood. They always seem blown away by how many opportunities we have to serve and love people. And yet, at the end of this day, I was blown away that people could be surprised either at the need or the amount of opportunities. Having lived in this neighborhood for almost a decade, both realities had finally sunk in.
I turned to my wife and said, “You know, if the Lord hadn’t called us to plant churches, I could easily spend the rest of my life going around recruiting believers and teaching them how to do ministry in an inner city context.” And we talked. We talked about how serving in our neighborhood is really easy. We just live life and love people along the way. We open our hearts and our homes. Needs naturally show up and we meet them where God gives us the ability.
We talked about the ministry that many try to do in our neighborhood. We talked about how Christians come to our neighborhood to serve and then leave. We’re thankful for their heart, but we know how they don’t really touch the true need here. How they don’t provide male role models for the boys that don’t have any. How they don’t teach the kids that don’t know how to read. How they don’t mentor the single mom who is stressed from working a job how to love and care for her kids. How they can’t show and sow the Gospel in a way that relates to the people, mostly because they can’t earn trust in such a short amount of time.
I’m not claiming to be an expert. I’ve had a ridiculously poor success rate at reaching people in my neighborhood. But I do see the need. And I’ve learned that I have more opportunities when I’m here more. The more I become part of this neighborhood, the more opportunities I have.
So I dreamed with my wife. I talked about going around to many of the other churches in my city and maybe even other cities to tell them about what I see: about the epidemic fatherlessness that is plaguing our inner cities; about the power that love and faithfulness can have on small children when they see it regularly and not once or twice or even 12 times a year; about how believers in Jesus can help. And then I would call them to come and live there. Notice I didn’t say do something. I would call them to come and live.
And as they live and experience life and pray about what they see, they would be able to respond to the Holy Spirit and meet needs where they could. They could become the guy that reads with a seven year old who should be farther along. They could work with the guy struggling to get off drugs or teach the 19-year-old who was never parented well how to drive her first car. And before they knew it, they would be sharing life and sowing the Gospel.
That’s when reality hit. As weird as it may sound, recruiting people to live in the inner city is not my calling. Planting house churches that embody apostolic Christianity is. So while I can do my part with those around me, spending my life recruiting others to live and serve the inner city would be stepping out of God’s will for my life. I can’t afford to do that.
But what I can do is say this: Some of you this will resonate with this. Some of you reading this will sense the Holy Spirit tapping you on the shoulder as I describe the need. Some of you already know that Jesus has been talking to you about this very subject. If that’s you, then my advice to you is to give in to Him. For most, that will mean selling your current house and moving to a needier neighborhood to do what I’ve described. I say “most” because the kind of ministry I’m describing is not a drive-by type of ministry. It’s not something you can do one Saturday afternoon a month. For most it will involve leaving one place and joining another. It’s a costly and time consuming process.
This is where many will start to argue with me. Having nodded your head through the entire post, you’ll immediately begin to defend your status quo. You could be right, God could be wanting you to be where you are to do ministry there. If so, let this spur you toward be awakened to the need around you. But be very clear that the Lord has called you in this direction. It’s always tempting to play it safe and call that decision “the Lord’s,” but my experience has been safety and the Lord’s calling rarely go hand in hand.
For those who have heard the Lord clearly enough to surrender the arguments, come join me, not in my city, but in the context of need that plagues our inner cities. God will meet us there.
I leave you with a quote from Theresa of Calcutta (better known as Mother Theresa):
Find your own Calcutta. Find the sick, the suffering, and the lonely right where you are…You can find Calcutta all over the world, if you have the eyes to see. Everywhere, wherever you go, you find people who are unwanted, unloved, uncared for, just rejected by society – completely forgotten, completely left alone.
Every week here at Pursuing Glory I try to bring together the best posts I’ve found that will equip the end-times church to operate in her God-ordained destiny. These are the best blogs, articles, books and other resources related to our purpose here at this site. Feel free to visit, comment, and make use of the resources found at each site.
I thought I would try something new this week. I’ve always meant to include other media besides blogs on our “Food for Thought” posts. It just so happens that this week there are a couple of significant contributions from the organic church world that I think are worth taking a look at. Let me know if you find any of these helpful in the comments section, and if people find them helpful I may try to find more. Enjoy!
Kieth @ the Subversive1 blog has been tearing up the internets with a series of articles on how to minister to the poor. Alan @ The Assembling of the Church references that post in this blog and he quotes a song by LeCrae that illustrates why church planting among the homeless and poor is absolutely necessary.
Shawn is a prophetic voice that has been pioneering a church in L.A. amongst the creative community there. He’s been posting at Shawnbolz’s Weblog about the difficulties of pioneering, and this post talks about the difficulty of continuing to walk in breakthough throughout our everyday lives.
Guy @ The M Blog writes about the need for continual training as we pursue the establishment of God’s Kingdom. I think continual training is a must for anyone serious about Kingdom transformation. Don’t miss the excerpt from Curtis Sergeant’s “What We Can Learn from the U.S. Marines.”
Len at Next Reformation has been thinking deeply about Ephesians chapter 4. Here he quotes various authors’ and thinkers’ thoughts on the realities found in Ephesians 4. What I love about these quotes is how they tie weakness and vulnerability together with displaying the glory of Jesus.
Starfish Files is an e-magazine put together by the leaders of the house church movement in Canada. Don’t miss the feature article: “Repenting of Dead Works for a Great Harvest of Souls.”
Neil Cole teaches on the true place of the five ministry gifts listed in Ephesians 4. I love Neil’s emphasis on Christ as the source of all the gifts. There’s a lot to be learned here.
“Honor widows who are truly widows. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband,and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. For some have already strayed after Satan. If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows,” (1 Timothy 5:3-15).
Paul in this passage is addressing a situation in the church at Ephesus. Timothy was left to set the church there in order and part of that process in Paul’s mind was straightening out the church’s support of widows. Now I’ve read these verses twenty times or so in the last few months and I’ve come to appreciate the wisdom Paul gives Timothy to lead those at Ephesus. But here’s what struck me the other day: the Church of the New Testament took caring for widows as a serious responsibility.
That sound’s like a “duh” statement, but think about it for a minute. Paul gives these instructions “so that [the church] may care for those who are truly widows.” At the heart of Paul’s instructions is this burning desire to make sure the church can care for those who are really widows. Paul didn’t write these words to show us who wasn’t worthy of care and he didn’t write this in response to an isolated first-century situation (cf. Acts 6:1, James 1:27).
But we have missed the forest for the trees. We talk about who should be on the list but we don’t support any widows. We don’t take care of women who cannot take care of themselves. We affirm the truth of what Paul writes but regularly ignore what Paul was actually doing. All of this is to say that the church needs to be about the things that are on the heart of the Lord. For Paul, this wasn’t just a mercy ministry, it was essential to the Gospel. He wrote these instructions so that we could care for widows well and teach those in our midst how to care for their family. This is part of the church being “a pillar and support of the the truth,” (1 Timothy 3:15). This is something we need to return to.
So…how are you caring for widows? Have you seen a church do this well in the past? In an age of social security and looking to the government to care for us, is this even possible? How would the way churches spend money have to change if this became a reality? Also, please remember Guideline #5.