Per request, this is the “executive summary” of my talk at the Pacific Islands University Equipping for Ministry Conference held in Barrigada, Guam, November 6-8, 2014. I was asked to talk about “taking theology to the streets.” This talk was given during three sessions that included a lot of discussion and interaction.
11 Practical Ps of Street Level Ministry
The people on the streets are those who literally or figuratively are on the margins of society -- often those who are homeless, abused, enslaved, jobless, and hungry.
If we start by serving the rich we only end up serving the poor in token ways. We never get to serve the streets in a significant life changing Jesus-transforming way. We need to start in the right place.
#1. Patient Persistence
Think of your congregation as a crock pot slow cooking with lots of local ingredients. Sometimes the Holy Spirit quick cooks the church but crock pot meals are more normal -- if not more healthy for the long-term. This is not just true for the ministries but also for the vision of the congregation. Don't expect that you're going to create some kind of instant vision. If we are open to it God will over time reveal his vision for us.
I’ve come to the conclusion after 30 years of pastoral ministry that -- the faster you go and the harder you have to press, the less of significance you accomplish.
The tortoise always wins the race.
#2. People Over Programs
Programs are good but only if they build relationships.
The homeless are often not so much looking for food as they are for food and someone to eat with them.
Somewhere along the way we’ve picked the idea that ministry occurs primarily through programs sponsored by a congregation or a parachurch organization.
We haven’t intentional said that. But the very existence and prevalence of the programs inadvertently tend to communicate that ministry occurs primarily through a well organized program with a supportive staff and budget line. But I’d suggest that ministry is primarily about relationships and sometimes we add programs to support the relational ministry. Success is measured through life change rather than our ability to sustain programs.
We can actually minister to people without waiting for a committee or a staff member to develop programming
When we are not taking all cues from the culture we will be different -- unique -- outstanding -- peculiar. Embrace that!
Peculiarity by itself is no guarantee of impact -- but there is no significant impact without peculiarity.
And as church leaders God is calling you to model peculiarity for the church -- as a matter of fact -- that’s how you become real leaders. You don’t even need an official position or title to exercise leadership in this way.
As a Christian leader you need to model the idea of peculiarity -- to see where God might take it.
- 90% of leadership is modeling what you want people to do
- 4% is explaining it
- 4% is holding their hands while they do it
- 2% is filling out any required paperwork along the way
Be willing to start and go small. Ministry can start with an individual or a small group of people.
Jesus didn't pop from Mary full grown -- or even fully mature -- or fully aware. The incarnation is characterized by a small beginning.
Start on the margins. Jesus started his public ministry with pathetic marginalized people. He did not go right to Jerusalem and the powerful. Be willing to embrace pathetic people.
Following Jesus means that you will have pathetic broken messy people in your life. And sometimes the level of brokenness and dysfunction in the lives of people is overwhelming. If you are a disciple of Jesus -- following him -- you will acquire a serious kind streak -- which means a heart for those literally and figuratively on the street -- the pathetics.
We’ve come to expect that our primary calling is to eliminate the problems in life. But Jesus gravitated toward the problems rather than running from them. If we are following him we will, too.
Quit thinking that there is something wrong with your church just because it is full of problems that make you uncomfortable.
If you’re going to church thinking that you’re going to get away from the problems in life you’re not following Jesus. You are not a disciple -- at least at that point.
The world is broken and full of problems -- of messiness. And if you are a neat freak you will spend an inordinate amount of time trying to keep everything neat and tiddy.
Now, I’m not saying that we’re called to be the source of problems -- although that might be true when you consider the economy of God’s kingdom -- but at the very least we shouldn't be surprised by the problematic nature of ministry -- the messiness in our lives -- in our churches.
We’re not just called to embrace people with problems but we have to realize that doing so will create problems. IOW, if you've got these kinds of problems you’re doing something right -- at least from a kingdom perspective.
#7. Personal Peace
We need to find a sweet spot where we are leading without angst. Once we realize we have nothing to prove we can relax and embrace God’s call. The fact is that I don’t feel very successful most of the time. That’s okay because I don’t operate on the premise that success will feed me. I have to function out of a different space in my life. And I’d suggest that it’s about a personal peace -- knowledge -- trust that God is at work -- no matter what. I’m just going along for the ride. So I’ve set out to live an intentionally unhurried peaceful life.
God is already at work fulfilling his purposes and we are partnering up with him.
To minister at this level we have to be willing to partner with other people and groups. It’s okay if we don’t fly OUR church flag over everything we do.
In this changing era we’re going to have to work together, creating financial partnerships, to fund ministry.
I’m not poor in the overall scheme of things but I’m not rich relative to my colleagues and many of the people in the community. There are advantages to being relatively poor. You better identify with those on the margins and you trust God more for daily bread.
Being poor also means living without status or recognition.
In his grace God always provides in one way or another. We need to relax in this truth. I’ve come to see it as a part of the adventure. I live in anticipation -- with eagerness to see how God will provide.
Love God, love neighbors, make disciples. This needs to be understood holistically. It is our call. And when we know our call we move forward confidently.