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
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."
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.
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.
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
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.