A Reality Check
A few years ago, we made some observations that started a chain of events. Our mission is to reach out to the unchurched with the gospel of Christ. We noted that this might require some willingness to change the ways we’ve always done things. At the same time, we were resolute to preserve things that are essential to the gospel. It’s a balance.
With this in mind, our leadership team brought in a consultant to facilitate an intentional study in the life of First Pres Maumee. Through this process, we learned that there are two kinds of organizations in the world: One is interest-based where people gather together because they have a common interest and expectations related to that interest. A private golf club is a good example of an interest based organization. The other type of organization is mission-based where people gather because of a common sense of mission. Knowing what kind of organization you are, is key to the decisions you make.
The facilitator asked us which model best represented our church. Thankfully we had the courage to acknowledge that though we are supposed to be mission-based, far too often we made decisions based on the preferences and desires of our members. The reality check stung a bit, but this realization became a turning point for us.
We made a commitment to stop making decisions based on our member’s personal interests, and determined to allow the mission of the church to drive all of our future decisions.
Put to the Test
Eager to put our new-found insight into practice, we reviewed our participation in a community outreach–a “soup kitchen” for the poor. This ministry was always looking for volunteers, and five congregants in our church stepped up to serve. On a monthly basis, the faithful five showed up to distribute food: they spooned food onto plates as recipients walked through the food line. There was no relationship, but the volunteers had good hearts.
We wondered: Is this interest-based? Or mission-based? Certainly, it’s good to serve the poor but the mission of our church was to engage the whole congregation, not just five people, in the work of God.
As we looked at this opportunity through new lenses, we approached the ministry differently. We didn’t want to simply satisfy the interests of a few of our people as noble as those interests were. We wanted to engage our whole congregation in the mission of God. So, we developed a relationship with a new ministry partner that would allow us to continue serving a meal every month, but instead of simply serving food on a plate, now the people of our church were encouraged to sit down at the table and develop relationships with those they served. We’re getting to know who they are, and we’re being led to provide for their needs in other ways, too. There is relationship-building which opens the door to sharing the gospel.
The other day we took inventory of who, from our church, has engaged in work with this ministry partner in the last year. We counted more than 100! Some are heavily invested in this ministry by sitting on their board of directors. Others are just buying groceries at Christmas. But, it’s a big deal to rally more than 100 members of our fellowship around a Christ-centered mission. Locally.
Any one of us can go down the street, serve a meal, and have conversation with a needy soul. But when we’re talking about global mission, that’s a lot harder to flesh out. What does engagement look like? How do you rally congregants around an international mission of sharing the gospel?
Compassion International is a unique and helpful partner to us in this space. The emphasis of child sponsorship is not on the $43/month, as important as this is. Compassion’s focus fits the mission of our church because it helps people from our congregation truly develop a relationship with children around the globe. There is true relationship-building with the child you sponsor through letter writing and prayer. This model allows each congregant at First Presbyterian Church to participate in global missions in a very natural way. For the 60+ families who sponsor children, we share a sense of mission.
A Beautiful Model for Children
I believe this model is beautiful for children on both sides of the sponsor-child relationship. Stacey, my wife, and I have four children. Each of them sponsor a child that is similar in age. As a family, we pray and write letters to our sponsored children. This effort gives Stacey and me the opportunity to talk about the values of the gospel with our children. The sponsor-child relationship provides an environment that helps us disciple our own kids.
Our sponsored children are all in the Dominican Republic. These kiddos hear about the values of the gospel, too. The child development centers they attend are hosted by neighborhood, gospel-centered churches. The staff teach the Compassion curriculum and influence the children with Jesus’ life and teachings. The sponsored children learn how to treat people, respect communities and cooperate with their government—all through the lens of Jesus’ example. Christ’s love and salvation set the tone as the children come to the church to play, learn, eat, serve and grow.
Before we began this intentional relationship between First Pres and Compassion, there were one or two congregants who sponsored children. Today, more than half of our 400 members are engaged with Compassion in one way or another. Most sponsor a child, but some helped financially when we funded a water project in the Dominican Republic. Our members gave $26,000; none of the donation came from the church budget.
Compassion helps us be mission-based in our international outreach. We have a let’s-do-this-together mindset as we share the gospel around the world. There is a life and purpose among congregants when we share a mission.
Old Habits Die Hard
I’d like to say our church has fully become mission-based and not interest-based. Although God has been gracious to give us insight and great progress, the interest-based mindset still rears its head occasionally because old habits die hard. The Spirit continues to work in our hearts to unite us in His mission. In the world today, there are so many distractions and the need for good deeds is everywhere.
As a congregational leader, my role is to remind people continually that we are here for God’s mission rather than our own interests. This mission mindset—and God’s abundant grace—engages more of our members in the life of the church these days. And, ultimately, this helps our church grow—not just numerically, but also spiritually. For this, we are abundantly grateful for God’s blessing