Your best partners for
may be in the pews around you.
By Jim Burton
Whatever else parents have said about student mission trips, many of them
have probably said: I didn't know my kid could do that.
Last summer I experienced that when the student group at our church traveled
from Georgia to West Virginia to work on homes in mountain communities. For my
firstborn, now an up-to-my-eyebrow-tall teen-age boy, going on the mission trip
was never an issue. He wanted to go. Admittedly, it was more to be with his
friends than out of a great sense of calling. Still, he wanted to be there.
Like most parents, I had a number of questions. Would he contribute to the
hard work? Would he take a shower? Would it change him … for the better?
When the students returned, communication didn't flow. Like most teen-age
boys, sharing details with inquisitive parents hurts him worse than getting his
braces adjusted. "It was fun," was about all we got out of him.
So we did what any self-respecting, proactive parents would do. We called
the chaperones for a report.
"He's a great worker, really pulled his load." What?
"You should have seen the drainage ditch he dug." Ditch digging?
Is this the same
why-hang-up-my-clothes-when-there-is-still-carpet-exposed-in-my-room kid that I
sent to West Virginia? Can this be the boy who considers being asked to empty
the dishwasher child abuse?
According to eyewitness accounts, it was.
How? Why? When the time was right, he was ready to talk.
"It's different, Dad, when you're working with friends. It doesn't matter
how hard the job is. It's fun!"
Talk about positive peer pressure.
Whether he knew it or not, my son had directly benefited from the
partnership he shares with his local church. Left to his own initiative, it's
doubtful he would have volunteered to help repair homes and toil in the hot
summer sun for the benefit of people he would never see again. He would have
missed the opportunity to serve others and share the love of Christ. And he
might not have learned that hard work can be fun, if you're doing it with your
friends and for the Lord.
"Churches that are reaching their community and world for Christ
have discovered that they must offer their members the opportunities to
discover where they fit into that goal."
That's the impact a church can have on one of its members. Churches that are
reaching their community and world for Christ have discovered that they must
offer their members the opportunities to discover where they fit into that
goal. The more choices offered, the better the chances members will connect and
find their own place in fulfilling the Great Commission. Before we know it,
we're doing things we never would have dreamed possible if the task had to be
accomplished on our own.
Help for reaching others
Supporting and participating in mission projects in your own neighborhood or
just down the street can be just as "do-able" as taking part in mission trips
across country or overseas. Your church can offer opportunities that empower
you to more effectively share Christ.
One suchm opportunity is the Metronet lunches sponsored by First Baptist
Church, Euless, Texas. "The main purpose of the lunch," says Charles Thornton,
the church's minister of evangelism, "is to give people the opportunity to
invite their unchurched friends and co-workers to something they can enjoy that
will expose them to Christ. Our goal is to see them come to Christ and become
an active part of a church."
Set to take place during the lunch hours of local businesses, Metronet is an
effective way to reach out to the community. "One of our regulars, Gayle Wood,
has been bringing people since the beginning, nearly three years ago. She
brought a friend named Karen who, along with her husband, Merle, started
attending the church and became a Christian. And there have been several
others," says Thornton.
In Gary, Indiana, another church is learning that partnering with its
members can have a transformational power on the surrounding community.
Twenty years ago Cato Brooks started a Tree of Life Church (SBC), in this
industrial city with 26 members in his congregation. All but two were on
welfare. With lots of prayer and hard work, Brooks started in on an evangelism
strategy deeply dependent on church members.
Today Brooks leads a congregation of 968, and 300 are trained in evangelism
and church planting strategies. Their plan is simple: win Gary to Christ 10
blocks at a time.
Brooks learned that the personality of the community changes every 10-12
blocks. "You have to match the man with the personality of the area so that it
does not have conflict," he says.
One way the outreach effort is matching people to ministry areas is by
focusing on the needs that are specific to the community.
"We can't just try to take care of the spiritual needs. We have to meet
their physical needs, too," says Kara Griffin, who says that God has called her
to work with youth. "I'm part of a group that focuses on young people age
17-24, and we not only help them get their G.E.D.s and learn a trade, but we
tell them about Christ."
People in the inner city are territorial because of gangs, Brooks has
learned. They never venture out much beyond their area.
"One way the outreach effort is matching people to ministry
areas is by focusing on the needs that are specific to the
"People on different sides of the street can be totally different," Brooks
says. "People won't cross the educational and socio-economic barriers to go to
church. They are intimidated if the church is large or the people are affluent.
So we try to get to their area to work with them."
As Tree of Life identifies those 10-12 block clusters, evangelism becomes
Griffin says her involvement has given her the opportunity to see many students
come to Christ.
"Some of the kids come from broken homes and drug-influenced backgrounds. We
lose some of them to the streets, but we're able to reach many of them.
"For example, one young lady lived across the street from me. Through the
relationship I'd built with her, I was able to talk to her about Christ and
invite her to church with me. She became a Christian and got involved in the
"Another young man not only became a Christian, but also announced that he
was called into mission work himself," says Griffin.
The partnership strategy is working. For the past six years, Tree of Life
has led the Indiana Baptist Convention in professions of faith. The lowest
number they've had during that time is 214 professions of faith in a year.
Tree of Life's success in Gary may soon be multiplied. The North American
Mission Board has contracted with Brooks to share his strategy with churches in
Chicago, New York City, Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit and St. Louis.
Churches starting churches
Sometimes one of the most effective ways a church can partner with its
members is to help start a church.
When Somerset Baptist Church of Somerset, New Jersey, called Ernesto
Robinson to be its pastor in 1996, the retired long-haul truck driver was a bit
hesitant. Sitting in the shadow of Rutgers University, the small
African-American congregation averaged about 18 people. Robinson, nearly 70 at
the time, had already served since 1984 as the minister of education. Perhaps
it was time for him to retire.
That's not what Robinson sensed to be God's will. He accepted the call with
a new vision.
"I didn't want Somerset to be an African-American church," Robinson says. "I
wanted Somerset to be the church of Jesus Christ."
Soon, God brought Korean-American Samuel Lee into Robinson's life. Lee was a
recent seminary graduate with an interest in starting a multi-racial church for
students. Despite age and race differences, the two men bonded quickly. They
shared a commitment to evangelism and church planting. Robinson sensed that
working with Lee, 32, could help his congregation accomplish something that, on
their own, they might not find possible.
Lee visited Somerset Baptist and spoke about breaking down the walls of
"Sometimes one of the most effective ways a church can partner
with its members is to help start a church."
"The congregation just responded," Lee recalls. "I was sweating. After-ward,
pastor Robinson came up to me, and he was crying."
A short time later Somerset Baptist Church was sponsoring Lee's Harvest
Community Church. The first Sunday brought 27 people. The next week, about 90
attended worship services. Today, Harvest Community Church worship services
include Americans of Korean, Chinese, African and Asian descent, with the core
group numbering about 40 to 50.
"It was nice to get a different culture's view of Christianity," says Joseph
Abram, a member of Somerset who helped in the church planting. "It's helpful to
see through other people's eyes sometimes."
Abram, who assisted in building the relationship between the sponsor church
and the new church by hosting get-togethers, says the church start gave him the
chance to do something he hadn't been able to do alone. "All my life, I've been
in the black church, but I'd always believed that reaching out to others went
beyond just white or black, or any other race or culture. I'd always wanted to
reach out to another culture, and this gave me the opportunity to do that."
Partnering with churches
Just as individual opportunities for evangelism expand when Christians
partner with their church, the impact of a single church on a community grows
when it joins with other local churches to make a difference.
In Birmingham, Alabama, churches are coming together to rehabilitate
The project is called Metro Changers, and it's a year-round effort by
Birmingham area Southern Baptist churches to minister to those in need.
"It's a way to serve Christ and to reach out to people in the community,"
says Janie Shelswell-White. She's part of the singles group at Dawson Memorial
Baptist Church. Since 1996, Dawson Memorial singles have rehabilitated three
"You spend a lot of time in your singles group doing social things.
This is a way of doing something that's more meaningful. You're representing
the church and trying to reach out to people and touch their hearts."
Dawson Memorial and the other participating churches came together for the
Metro Changers project with the help of the Birmingham Baptist Association.
Most Southern Baptist churches participate in regional associations of Southern
Baptists in their areas and support the associations with offering money to
help meet community ministry needs. In addition to office staff to provide
coordination and support, many local associations have their own missionaries
who are committed full-time to working with churches to reach the community for
"You build relationships with people and not only get a chance
to renovate houses, but you often get a chance to renovate a
"Our focus is the local congregation," says Ricky Creech, director of the
Birmingham Baptist Association. "God did not call the association into
ministry. We are here to serve what God has called."
Many Baptist churches in Birmingham had sent young people to participate in
national World Changers projects to renovate houses in other states, but Creech
created Metro Changers as a way to help churches do the same thing right there
in Birmingham. Metro Changers gives local church members relational outlets
that might not have happened any other way.
"You build relationships with people and not only get a chance to renovate
houses, but you often get a chance to renovate a life," Creech says.
The result has been 87 homes renovated since May 1997 with the help of more
than 40 partnering Southern Baptist churches in the Birmingham area. The
ministry has also been able to make inroads into the community by involving 11
civic and community organizations. Creech is now working with other Baptist
associations throughout the country who want advice on giving their churches
the same kind of ministry opportunity.
Participants are not just fixing homes, though. They're also telling people
about Christ. According to Tom Howe, co-director of Metro Changers, at least
five people in the area have become Christians through the work of volunteers
who take the time to help rebuild lives, as well as houses.
The bigger picture
Just as your church is a key partner for reaching your community for Christ,
it is also the best starting point for your participation in the big picture of
North American and international missions. Whether you want to learn more about
the work of missionaries, go on a short-term mission trip or anything in
between, your church can connect you with dozens of partners who will help you
get to where you want to be.
My son returned from West Virginia last summer with a bigger vision for what
could be accomplished in reaching others with the gospel. That's what an
effective partnering church can do for each of us. Tasks that seem
overwhelming--like reaching friends or a community or continent or world for
Christ--are a little more do-able when our churches step in to provide the
tools and opportunities we need to make the jump into participation.
Jim Burton is Director of Volunteer Mobilization for the North American
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC