Thursday, June 14, 2007

Finding Jesus in another church

A wise man once told me not to judge other denominations by its worst examples because they could do the same for my denomination. As a young believer, I tended to buy into the proposal that people in mainline denominations, Roman Catholics and other non-Baptists did not believe the Bible and were not real Christians. I was always surprised when I met a non-Baptist on a mission trip or conference and found they believed in both Jesus and the Bible.

On the other hand, I was always made to feel uncomfortable by Fundamentalists and Charismatics. The latter would tell me I was a second-class Christian, the former that I was unsaved. There were also Calvinists, Dispensationalists and others who felt they had discovered the truth and loved arguing about it.

I must confess that I, too, tended to be a one-dimensional Christian. Evangelism is what gets me going. There was a time when I had reduced evangelism to an event where I make a presentation and press for a decision. Once the deal was closed, I moved on. There was no follow-up.

As my faith developed, I learned that there was a little more to evangelism than a polished presentation and an emotional appeal. I also learned that there was more to Christianity than recruiting members to my club.

I learned to appreciate what other Christians were teaching me. My Charismatic friends taught me to worship with enthusiasm and that God still works miracles in our lives. My Mainline friends taught me to minister to the needs of the poor. My friends from the African-American tradition taught me to fight for the rights of the oppressed.

I have not left my Baptist/Evangelical roots behind during my pilgrimage. I still believe that the Bible is the highest authority for faith and practice. I was saddened by the death of Jerry Falwell, who taught me that Christians need to be engaged in the political process. I am still evangelistic with a strong commitment to global missions but I’ve grown beyond the narrow views of my underdeveloped faith.

I continue to learn and grow in Christ. I work to build the Kingdom in cooperation with other churches. I read the Bible with the expectation that God teach me something new. I am open to both ancient traditions and contemporary adaptations in an effort to have a fuller understanding of God.

In today’s post-denominational environment I encounter a growing number of Christians who are setting aside traditions and denominational power trips to impact the world in Jesus’ name. I pray that the number continues to grow and that, one day, they will look back to our time and say the was the Third “Great Awakening.”

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Transforming Communities

I recently visited a mission site near Helena, Arkansas, in one of the poorest communities of the US. This area was selected for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Together for Hope effort to reach out to the areas where the need is the greatest.

Using a combination of government, local and CBF resources, CBF missionaries Ben & Leonora Newell have developed programs to improve the life of the children in the community.

One major effort was renovating the community center gym, which was gutted by a fire. The reconstruction cost was more than the community could afford. The Newell’s secured a $70,000.00 grant and completely restored the facility using church mission teams.

Using the gym as a base of operations the Newell’s have after school programs and other activities that are staffed by volunteers from churches in the community. A summer-long recreation program is staffed by visiting mission teams from churches across America. Other ministries include a mobile library (donated by an Alabama church) and community gardens.

Their current big project is the construction of New Light Missionary Baptist in the heart of this impoverished community. Mission teams from CBF churches around the country are participating in this effort to build this beacon of hope in the midst of faith-numbing poverty.
Helena, Arkansas, stands as an example of what can be accomplished if we “attempt great things for God and expect great things from God.” The Newell’s ministry started small. They got the local churches organized, worked with local government agencies, and asked for help from other churches and community agencies.

This type of community transformation can be accomplished in any area. First, look for needs. Take a field trip though your neighborhood, paying particular attention to the poorer sections. Ask the local school principals. Meet with community based organizations. Interview the people in your church.

Second, as you are looking for needs, take note of human and material resources God is making available. There might be buildings or rooms you can use, abandoned fields for community gardens, people interested in working, etc.

Third, decide what you want to do first. There are more needs than resources, so go for the low hanging fruit first. By picking an easy task where there is agreement as to the need and sufficient resources, you will gain credibility for the next task. All big ministries start small.

Fourth, develop partnerships with churches, community based organizations, local government agencies, businesses and others who want to work together to creates a better future for your community.

Finally, remember that the greatest need in your community is Jesus. Meeting physical and emotional needs are important. It was a big part of Jesus ministry. We cannot neglect the spiritual needs of the people we serve.

Feed someone a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach someone to fish and you feed him for life. Lead someone to Jesus and they will never thirst again.