This past Wednesday morning I attended a meeting of area ministers and community leaders from all denominations in Monroe. The meeting was assembled by Dr. John Avant of First Baptist West Monroe. He was sick that morning, but the Lord gave him strength to chair this important gathering. Being the new guy in town I knew very few people at the gathering, so I was happy to see Mike Kellett and Alan Robertson of Whites Ferry Road Church of Christ enter the room. I was fairly uncertain as to what this meeting was about, but enjoyed meeting several ministers in the area.
Part of the meeting centered around the challenges that our community in Ouachita Parish is facing. Among the many challenges some of the issues raised included poverty, violence, race relations, educational challenges, and the lack of unity among churches to lead the way to answers. I was inspired by the discussion of these issues in a room of about 40 ministers, black and white, male and female. Truly these issues are transcendent in our city, rising above all divisions.
Ideas were flowing from various viewpoints as to how we could attempt to address these problems, all of us believing that the Christian community has a responsibility to bring light into the darkness. I heard several great ideas. Recruit more volunteers to help people attain their G. E. D., thus opening up the door for better employment opportunities. Lease or buy houses in troubled neighborhoods and establish mission points in the neighborhood – places of refuge and ministry. Mark Elam, a local youth pastor, is utilizing existing recreational centers to have classes for young people. He encouraged us to consider using the existing structures maximize outreach.
Two main ideas began to crystallize in the meeting. One was to have an annual event focused around our common civic and Christian values. This would serve as a kind of rallying call to the community for involvement. One pastor visualized a graduation ceremony for those who had completed their G. E. D. through our help. It would be both a celebration and a call to action. But more importantly than a rally, the second main idea was to create practical avenues of community
John Avant cited Bob Lupton as someone who has had a great influence on him in this area. He has several books written about community development and social justice. Bob will be coming to Monroe on May 8th to help share this vision. Also Avant is a friend of Brooklyn Tabernacle pastor and author Jim Cymbala. Many of John’s ideas are based on the strategies used at Brooklyn Tabernacle to turn their neighborhood around, many of which are outlined in Cymbala’s book, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire (an excellent read). In fact, Avant suggested that as a group we travel to Brooklyn to meet with Jim Cymbala and get a visual on the kind of community ministry that can take place.
Community leader John Rea suggested the following four steps for the group:
Shape the Vision
Share the ownership
Survey the audience
Stewards – be good stewards of the resources already in our hands.
One of the ideas I liked a lot was the creation of a kind of a Center where several different community outreaches could be housed. There evidently is already discussion of land / facilities being donated or offered for use.
A common theme for the meeting was that we must work together to make a difference. None of our churches has every resources needed to impact the community. Another theme was the rejection of territorialism – every church only interested in itself. This meeting is not about helping any one or two churches grow … it is about helping hurting people. I suspect that the churches that get involved and work hard will probably grow, but the emphasis is that this is a mission of mercy, not of filling pews. A third theme was the intentional uniting of black and white Christians working together. If we cannot lead the way in this, who can?
My hope and prayer is that this is the beginning of some momentum of ministry … an unprecedented turning of the tide of violence and poverty. We have great leaders in our community and in our churches.
Three books were highly recommended at the meeting as essential reading for this effort:
Toward the end of the meeting, Mike Kellett made an excellent comment. He said that all of our churches need to be making missionaries, not members. Amen. We do have great mission works around the world, but cannot let the mission in our own back yard go neglected. I hope to be able to tell you more about this effort in the coming months.
Pray for those who are experiencing the floods in our nation. It’s an awful experience.
Thanks for reading,
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