The room was filled with polite laughter at a pithy statement, which had been made in an ill attempt to set a comedic tone. Conversation raged on around the previous week's football game, and the "spectacular" play made by the newly drafted rookie. This church staff meeting, like all the others, would last over two hours. A majority of that time would be spent discussing the budget, the Easter egg hunt, and the upcoming launch of the "Summer Experience" schedule: the youth pastor's tired effort to be relevant. The senior pastor, who had "weathered the trenches of ministry" for the past twenty-five years (a clever way of saying that he had earned his stripes in youth ministry and planted a church about ten years ago) quieted the room and began to make his way through the printed agenda. As had been anticipated, the staff debated over the color of the tablecloths at the next potluck and finalized the annual sermon schedule (complete with a few guest missionaries to talk about the needs of third-world countries). Finally, with five minutes left until lunch, the pastor noticed the last bullet-point. “Oh yeah, let’s pray for this list of people in the hospital,” he said, and then looking to his secretary, “make a point to send them a card, or something, letting them know that they’re in our prayers.” The secretary makes a note, noticing a scribbled message that she had jotted down while on the phone that morning. “Will do, and a woman called this morning: single mom; needs help buying formula. I told her that we don’t really do that, but I’d bring in up in our meeting and see if we could find her someone who does.” The senior pastor looked to his already overworked youth pastor, "can you Google it and see what pops up? Surely there's a ministry somewhere that could help. All right let's grab lunch!" As sad as it may sound, similar conversations have echoed in the meeting rooms of churches across the United States. It is not my intention to speak ill of the events and programs that we host as a local church, or to serve as a castigation toward those who priorities their planning and execution. Instead, it is to draw attention to the missed opportunities for ministry that often occur at their expense. Evangelistic events are great for attracting families who are looking for a new home church, but they do nothing for the young girl who is struggling to feed her malnourished baby. These realities, unfortunately, get pushed to the wayside to make room for more “pressing” issues. Over the past four decades, the statistics concerning single-parent homes have accelerated exponentially, having “more than doubled” in just ten years.1 With increasing rates like these, there is no reason to believe that we will see a decrease in the foreseeable future. What's more, "at any one time, about two-thirds of single mothers are working outside the home. However, only half are employed full-time all year long, almost a third (27.5%) were jobless the entire year.” Once you factor in the cost of raising a newborn (around $12,000, in the first year alone), We are facing a true epidemic. Considering the church at large, inpatient hospital stays (across the U.S.) grew by more than 14% between 1997 and 2009. While this may not seem like a dramatic increase, consider that the 2009 statistic was over 39 million. Pastor, statistically speaking, this includes many members of your church. What are you doing to minister in this most terrible season? Within the church, we find many families that "fit the bill" of what we would consider "nuclear." They are complete, with a dad and a mom, two children, and a white picket fence. They show up on Sundays, pay their tithe, and we assume that every day they wear their Sunday best. But, the statistics shed a dingy shadow over our picturesque suburban home. 4,774,000 women "experience physical violence by an intimate partner every year."6 On a more subtle note, around “40% of first marriages will end in divorce; 60% of second marriages and 73% of third marriages.”7 Like it or not, marital problems are real, and they are alive among your congregation. Statistics like these should deflate the bounce houses and make room for the triage tents. These considerations are but three examples of the mission’s field that exists right in our own backyard. But why should this be the concern of the local church? Aren't there ministries that specifically provide benevolent support to those less fortunate? If not, doesn't the government provide support? Don't hospitals have chaplains and pastoral care professionals? Aren't their trained marriage counselors who are better equipped to provide counsel to struggling couples? Why should the church staff give up their time to meet the needs already being met? While it is true, to some extent, that the government provides support, ministries exist to aid particular groups, most hospitals have ministry professionals, and licensed therapist are available, it is a fundamental error to believe that the local Church is without responsibility to offer support in these areas as well. And not only these but any area where the community has a need. Space could be taken and has been taken before, to argue why the church is more equipped to meet these needs, rather than social-political liaisons, but my desire is not to pursued the church on the merit of her abilities. In truth, my belief is quite to the contrary: in many cases organizations outside of the church are better prepared to aid the community, practically speaking. My heart is to challenge the church to act, not because they can, but because they should. Throughout Scripture, God has chosen to develop His people through obedience. This means that he often thrusts his children into situations that they have not been adequately prepared to handle. In these seasons, he leads us back to him by bringing us to the end of ourselves. At this moment, we have nothing left to do but depend on him for sustenance. Consider Peter and Paul: Paul, the formally trained Pharisee, would have been the prime candidate for ministry to the Jews; Peter, the rough and crass fishermen, could have easily communicated the Gospel to the Gentiles. Yet, this is not how God chose to commission these two men. Instead, he called them to something beyond themselves. All that they had to do was be obedient. What then has God called the Church to do? In the present day, many hours have been spent in church “vision meetings,” developing core values and mission statements. These catchy slogans usually convey the hope for the church to be warm, welcoming, and driven toward a purposeful future. While merit can be attributed to such ambitions, the reality is that the church already has a mission statement: the Great Commission. Sadly, many have forgone this God-breathed eloquence for a more ”relevant” one. The Great Commission is found in Matthew 28:18-20: But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 [a]Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you [b]always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NASB) As a counterpart, Acts 1:8 gives much direction to the church as well: but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Some have given rise to the idea that Jesus’ reference to the cities and regions was actually a specific instruction toward a strategic plan. The church began in Jerusalem, which was a city in the region of Judea (which could be seen as a county). Outside of Judea was the city of Samaria, a large city with a similar culture to Jerusalem. Finally, Jesus instructs the Apostle to “Go...even to the ends of the Earth,” but not before they first reach their own city, county, and surrounding cities. Far too often we aid the cause of starvation in third world countries, but forget the hungry sitting outside our own front doors. Now, having concluded where ministry should take place, we can focus in on what type of ministry we should be doing. Obviously, evangelism and discipleship will always be our primary aim. However, ministry is much broader than this. The early Church in Jerusalem spent much of their time and resources meeting the needs of the less fortunate. This was the very reason why the office of "deacon" came into existence (Acts 6). This passage alsoclues us into the reality of the early church, "distributing food" to the widows of the community. This is very fitting, considering that James, the overseer of the Church at Jerusalem, said in James 1:27, "Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress..." Ministry is more than services and events. What the local church needs is a pastoral care ministry that focuses on the need of the community and ministers to those who need it most.
As can be extrapolated from the content above, there is both a societal need and a Biblical precedent for a ministry that reaches beyond the church parking lot. Such a ministry wouldneed to be more than just a second hand “para-ministry,” but rather one that encompasses the church as a whole a mobilizes the congregation toward a unified effort. In other words, this should not be a ministry in the church, but of the church. The goals set forth should be straightforward and easily attainable: • To meet the needs of the community as effectively and efficiently as possible • To see no need as “outside the scope” of the local church (at least to the extent of having ready resourses and referrals available) • To first reach Jerusalem, before the ends of the earth.
More specifically, these goals, over a five-year span, would flesh out as: • To decrease the number of “unmet” solicited needs by 20% annually • To engage the local community for effectively by increasing intentional interaction by 20% annually • To be more present with parishioners during hospital stays by decreasing number of unvisited inpatients by 20% annually. • To be more proactive toward a decrease in divorce rate by increasing engagement toward married couples by 20% annually. • To be more helpful toward grieving families by decreasing the “unmet” needs of “widows and orphans” by 20% annually.
The overall goal would then be to offer to the congregation and community more than worship services and events, but genuine pastoral care.
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