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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.