I am proposing a new model for small church ministry.  It is not a model that you have read about or seen advertised.  No seminars or conferences about this model exist. There is no notebook, website, CD, or video link.  Yet, it is so obvious that we have missed it for at least the past 1900 years.  I learned this new model, not from the church, but from a civic group.

My Community Arts Group Experience

The arts stuff we do at our church has a connection to a state university here in Virginia.  As a result of my support for local arts projects, I was invited to join a group called Leadership Through the Arts.  Recently, this group, made up of community arts enthusiasts and providers, met to develop grant applications for future funding.  Here’s the amazing part — with all their resources, the university professors involved asked us what we wanted.  They convened a meeting to listen to us, pull together our ideas, and package them using the clout of the university name to get government grant attention that individually we would not get.  That experience brought together some random thoughts I had about ministry.

A New Model for Small-Church Ministry

A lot has been written about servant evangelism, externally-focused churches, and getting outside the four walls of the church to do something in and for the community.  Most of this stuff centers on talking about our need to focus outwardly, what we can do, and how we can do it.  But there is a problem with all of that.  We’re still starting from inside the church.

Jesus, on the other hand, did not try to organize the local synagogue (his equivalent of our church) to do good works.  He got out among real, live people and talked to them.  His presence asked, “What do you need?”  When they said, “We need healing” — he healed them.  When they said, “We’re hungry” — he fed them.  When they said, “My daughter died” — he raised her.  Jesus got out among real people with real problems, found out what they needed and did it.

Translate that into 2007 — our ministry should begin in conversation with people in our communities who don’t go to our churches.  Until we sit and drink coffee with them, and listen to their dreams, concerns, and needs, we will continue to patronize the world with programs we think are good, but that don’t meet the real needs in our community.

The way we got involved in the arts here in Chatham was to listen to other people — people who were not members of our church.  We listened to their dreams and came alongside them to partner with them in making those dreams for the community come true.

New Attitudes for the New Model

This new model for ministry does not require money or staff.  The smallest church can do it.  But it does require a new attitude toward people and ministry, as follows:

  • Ministry changes from something we do for the community to something we do with the community.
  • People are viewed as God’s creation now, whether they are in our churches or not.
  • Ministry becomes holistic, dealing with the issues of real life that concern real people, not driven only by our perspectives.

If we adopted this new model and insisted that not only would our church be involved, but that our ministries would have community partners, too, we would see a dramatic change in the way churches are viewed.  Rather than closed clubs, or secret societies, our churches would be viewed as real partners in the communities we serve.  I think it’s a model worth exploring further.  Any thoughts?