STEWARDING THE COMMUNITY
Cold air swirled in the November night as the evangelistic meeting ended. As the evangelist made his final call, a man stumbled forward from the back of the sanctuary. Kneeling as he fell in front of the altar, he bowed and began crying out to God; tears of repentance flowed down his cheeks. Jimmy, though sincere in his prayer, was stone drunk.
Jimmy told me he had been under a bush on the church property for the last several nights. He had stayed there undetected, despite some nights reaching below freezing. Greg, one of the church members, also heard Jimmy’s story. Jimmy was an army veteran, who had served his country in time of war. Jimmy struggled, not only financially, but with real emotional scars from his time in the army. Now Jimmy was an alcoholic, and he knew it.
As the weather got colder, Greg bought a tent for Jimmy to use, and a good sleeping bag, and even a few nights in a hotel during the worst nights. Greg made contact with the veteran’s office to get Jimmy into a special in-patient program for alcoholics. Greg told Jimmy that if he completed the six-month program he would take him to the top of Seattle’s Space Needle as a celebration, something Jimmy had wanted to do since childhood.
I will never forget the day that Greg and I looked out over Seattle with Jimmy. He was ‘on top of the world.’ A few months later Greg and I visited Jimmy in his own apartment. He had been free from alcohol for more than 8 months, and was looking forward to working for the first time in almost ten years.
Greg ministered to Jimmy’s needs. Jimmy accepted Christ, and with the help of a loving friend, his life was changed. This is the way that Jesus did it too."
Greg demonstrated God’s love to Jimmy in very practical ways. He spent time with him. He listened to his needs. He showed an interest in Jimmy’s challenges, and won his confidence. Greg ministered to Jimmy’s needs. Jimmy accepted Christ, and with the help of a loving friend, his life was changed. This is the way that Jesus did it too. Ellen White says that, “Christ's method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me.’
“There is need of coming close to the people by personal effort. If less time were given to sermonizing, and more time were spent in personal ministry, greater results would be seen. The poor are to be relieved, the sick cared for, the sorrowing and the bereaved comforted, the ignorant instructed, the inexperienced counseled. We are to weep with those that weep, and rejoice with those that rejoice. Accompanied by the power of persuasion, the power of prayer, the power of the love of God, this work will not, cannot, be without fruit” (Ministry of Healing, p. 143).
When a person, family, or group of believers shares their time and their spiritual gifts in the community, this is a way of stewarding the community, because it aids in transforming a community one life at a time."
Christ calls each believer to be a person of influence—the right kind of influence! Having church members who serve the community is one very dynamic type of stewardship. When a person, family, or group of believers shares their time and their spiritual gifts in the community, this is a way of stewarding the community, because it aids in transforming a community one life at a time. Sometimes this kind of influence is one-on-one, like it was in the case of Greg and Jimmy, but even more can be accomplished when a group of believers works together to serve the community. The body of Christ, the church, is always rooted in a local context where mission matters the most. When members work together, using their God-appointed gifts, there is amazing potential for community transformation. More than one hundred years ago, Ellen White shared the concept of having Adventists involved in their communities through urban centers of influence. She encouraged multiple types of community action to impact a community. One example Mrs. White used is what she termed the “beehive” in San Francisco: “During the past few years the ‘beehive’ in San Francisco has been indeed a busy one. Many lines of Christian effort have been carried forward by our brethren and sisters there. These included visiting the sick and destitute, finding homes for orphans and work for the unemployed, nursing the sick, and teaching the truth from house to house, distributing literature, and conducting classes on healthful living and the care of the sick. A school for the children has been conducted in the basement of the Laguna Street meetinghouse. For a time a workingmen’s home and medical mission was maintained. On Market Street, near the city hall, there were treatment rooms, operated as a branch of the St. Helena Sanitarium. In the same locality was a health-food store. Nearer the center of the city, not far from the Call building, a vegetarian cafe was conducted on six days of the week and entirely closed on the Sabbath. Along the water front, ship mission work was carried on. At various times our ministers conducted meetings in large halls in the city. Thus the warning message was given by many” (Review and Herald, July 5, 1906). In San Francisco this small group of church members evidently served the community in many different ways. The ministry of the church was not always given in the same way, and so, it was able to meet the needs of many more people. In the process of serving people in such a variety of ways, many more individuals and families were reached, and this inclined them to open their hearts to hear more. So often we use the same approach time and time again—an approach which typically relies on professionals, and reduces the energy of the average church member to that of a mere supportive role, rather than one of engagement or even leadership. The beauty of urban centers of influence is that they can provide an opportunity for wide involvement on the part of church members who have different talents and skills. Today, there is a growing group of churches that are serving as centers of influence. These churches are active in service-evangelism. Service-evangelism is an operational principle which holds that every church ought to serve the community in big and small ways. Churches might hand out water on jogging paths, remodel a public park, or sponsor a free medical clinic; in each case, the church and its members are serving and loving the community. With all the challenges in society today there is a tremendous need to have more individuals of influence, and churches of influence. Even with these, there are many people who may never step inside the four walls of a church, due to some personal or religious bias that has built up in their lives. In order to meet these people it may be necessary to establish urban centers of influence that share Christ’s love and His message in cities—the best way of serving a community. Through individuals, lives are touched, through churches, neighborhoods are served, and through urban centers, communities can be transformed.
Here are a few ideas on how to begin serving and loving your neighborhood for Christ.
Becoming a person of influence: Listen to your neighbors and see the needs of those near you. Ask, “What can I do? What time do I have? What talents do I have to bless my neighbors?” It does not take much to bake someone cookies, mow a lawn, invite someone for supper, or watch their kids for an evening.
Being a church of influence:
What groups of people in your community are underserved? To what places could groups go to serve others in approachable ways? Are there small physical projects your church could get involved with like beautifying a public space or painting a graffiti covered wall?
“What area has no church? What resources do we have in these areas, what churches that could bless our community? What skills do the members of our churches have that may be a blessing to the community?”
Establishing a center of influence: A great place to start is by conducting an informal community assessment about the needs of your community, or find available information through a government census or demographic agency, or organizations like Percept Group that sell ministry-related community profiles. Good questions to ask are “What area has no church? What resources do we have in these areas, what churches that could bless our community? What skills do the members of our churches have that may be a blessing to the community?”
Today more people are living in cities than ever before. Many of them have never accepted Jesus. Unfortunately many of these people have little or no contact with Christians, or the message of hope that Jesus brings. Please pray as new Life Hope Centers are established and as they begin touching lives for Jesus as centers of influence in the cities.
If you would like to help start new Life Hope Centers in unreached urban areas of the world, you can give your secure online donation at Giving.AdventistMission.org and choose Centers of Influence. Or visit Urbancenters.org to learn more about how to start a Center of Influence.