The serendipity of ministry opportunities

© 2014 sabin paul croceFlickr | CC-BY via Wylio
In Aurora, CO, church planter Reid Hettich ended up partnering with another non-profit and forming a new LLC called the Dayton Street Opportunity Center, which has a new building in an impoverished Aurora neighborhood and offers health care job training, ESL and immigration services, and several other community development ministries...oh, and a worshiping church!

In Topeka, KS, the local Rescue Mission, a church, a former crime prevention coordinator, a social worker, and several others all ended up descending on the city's poorest neighborhood where a school had just closed down. They ended up forming a new organization called NETReach that operates out of the closed down school. They are working with the neighbors to develop this neighborhood, which includes a comprehensive mentoring program that prepares and then pairs willing residents with a team of mentors who seek to encourage them, pray with them, and connect them with community resources that were previously out of their reach.

These are just two examples I've heard over the years of churches and Christian ministries finding some amazing opportunities and engaging in trailblazing ministry partnerships. Every time I hear such stories, I often first respond by asking myself, "How in the world did they do that?! How did they think of it? How did they make it happen."

Well, come to find out, no one could have ever planned these things. Instead, they honestly seem to come about as a result of God working in surprising ways in the midst of people who had sufficiently opened themselves up to such opportunities. To put it another way, most great ministries do not begin with an idea or a plan but with people creating the conditions in which such ideas and plans can emerge.

This came up as I led discussions about community partnerships during the 2015 Mission Summit of American Baptist Churches - USA. The theme I latched onto in one group conversation was the serendipitous nature of these opportunities. Several in the group have seen great partnerships develop that no one ever expected and that no one could have forced, but came about because 1) pastors and congregants were intentionally present in their community, 2) were open to innovation, and 3) had their antennas up for where the Holy Spirit was working. One pastor shared this story:

A person in the community had committed suicide. When this happened, the police dispatcher actually called the pastor because she had been at a meeting with him where he had read a poem about death that was meaningful to her. "You should go over there because you're the death expert," she said. After ministering to this family and coming to understand the circumstances they had faced, the pastor ended up writing a letter to the paper about a need to more directly address issues of mental illness and substance abuse in the community. As a result of that letter, people started contacting him about a task force. They brought together many different stakeholders, knowledgeable experts, and community leaders. They decided to launch a cross-sector, community-wide initiative. When word got around of the new initiative, a friend of the grieving family to whom the pastor had ministered approached him and offered to fund it for the first few years.

They couldn't have planned that. They DIDN'T plan that. But it can be traced to a Christian leader who was intentionally present to his community and had his antennas up for where the Holy Spirit was working.

I"m reminded of Joseph Myer's book Organic Community where he differentiates two types of approaches in leadership: the master plan mentality vs. an organic order mentality. He writes, "Master plans intend to control the future. Master plans provide specific answers to future questions that may not have been asked yet...A master plan does not allow for flexibility, uncertainty, or serendipity--ingredients of the aha moment...Organic order, on the other hand, presents a language of possibilities."

A lot of people say, "God works in mysterious ways" and that "all things are possible." But I've seen how opportunities come about most powerfully for people who doggedly believe that.


Polarization, public witness and the moral minority [excerpt]

© 2014 George RedgraveFlickr | CC-BY-ND
Many denominations have a solid history of adding a prophetic voice to moral and ethical issues of the day. This includes my own denomination, American Baptist Churches USA, which can claim Martin Luther King Jr. as one of its own. Our domestic arm, American Baptist Home Mission Societies, has a number of initiatives including children in poverty, prisoner re-entry, and immigration and refugee services. The Roman Catholic Church, as another example, also has a long history of social teaching, including the primacy of the family, the value of life from conception to death, and care for God’s creation.

The preceding paragraph mentioned at least a half-dozen issues that politicians and their ideological camps are currently fighting about. Imagine what a large part of the church’s historic public witness would be silenced if it were concluded that we could not speak on anything about which there is current political disagreement.

Some confuse the separation of church and state with the separation of religion and politics. The former is absolutely necessary for a free society; the latter is impossible. Churches and their leaders absolutely have a right and a responsibility to speak to moral and ethical issues, especially where suffering is happening or human dignity is at stake... [Read more at Baptist News Global]


Ashes, Children, and God in Brokenness [excerpt]

I’ve thought about this lesson in my own life and in the midst of struggles I see in other adults, but I don’t often think of it with children. What would it look like for me as a parent to be more attentive to leading my children to discover God in the midst of pain—over and above my more obvious role of helping them weather it?

I wonder if we do ourselves and our children a disservice with the common spiritual encouragement: “God will not give you more than you can handle.” This oft-repeated phrase is not found in scripture. It is a misquote of 1 Corinthians 10:13, which talks about temptation, not suffering or pain. (I wish it were true that people are never given more than they can handle, but as a pastor I’ve seen many examples to the contrary). This well-meaning expression of encouragement, if you look carefully, has for its goal merely getting us through or past the pain, or trying to make it seem not as bad as it feels.

But when we embrace our human experience of suffering—which is really hard and something that requires the support of parents, friends, and church—we open ourselves to an experience of God and spiritual growth that cannot happen any other way. It took me too long to learn that. What would it look like to teach my children this truth? [...read more at Practicing Families].