Mitch Miller, Pastor at Griggs Memorial Baptist Church
One key to pastoring in a low-income area is to see yourself not just as the pastor of your church, but the pastor of the entire neighborhood your church is in. This simple shift in thinking changes everything.
When I came on board to pastor Griggs Memorial Baptist Church in the neighborhood of Poe Mill, I looked at my role through this lens. First thing that was affected was my time. Instead of cooping myself up in an office, I started knocking on doors, having conversations, hearing about needs and, when possible, meeting those needs regardless of whether or not the one in need was coming to my church.
Within a pretty short amount of time my phone was ringing off the hook. About a year into the role, I would get a call whenever anyone in the neighborhood was in the hospital, needed a preacher for a family member’s funeral, needed $30 to turn their water back on, had lost their job, or just been through a heart break. Sometimes these calls came within the work day, sometimes late at night. Sometimes the people started visiting the church after I tried to help them. Some of them still haven’t visited.
All of that is ok. The joy comes not from my comfort, but my opportunity to comfort those in pain. It may be that you too are ministering in an area where many are in pain on a daily basis. What do they need? They need a pastor. Don’t make them show up to find one. You show up for them. Here’s how:
One thing we have to recognize is that most people in our neighborhood aren't going to bring their problems to us unless they're big, life-or-death problems. Very few people will be knocking on the door of the church just because they have a car trouble or the flu. That's why we have to check in with them, just to see how they're doing.
This is as simple as a knock on the door, a piece of mail we send out, or a text or Facebook message as we get to know people better. We contact them even if they don't come to our church but say, "I pray for folks here in the neighborhood each week. Is there anything that I can pray for you specifically, big or small?" And don’t forget to actually pray for them.
Sometimes you may get a sense that something isn't right with a neighborhood family. You might see or hear something that prompts you to reach out. Always follow that prompting.
The other day I was talking to one of our members who told me he saw a kid on our church van knock an ice cream out of another kid's hand on purpose. The ice cream was totally ruined, laying on the floor of the van. The child being bullied said he would never come back to our church.
After figuring out who it was, I personally stopped by his house with a gift card for another ice cream. I was able to chat with the little guy and encourage him. The next Sunday he was back in kid's ministry. This was also a chance for me to meet his family, who later came to our church and heard the gospel!
I’ll take a second here to give a shout-out to one of my deacons. There's a homeless man who attends our church. Our deacon saw the obituary of this gentleman's mother one day in the newspaper and called me with the funeral information. At his suggestion, I went to the viewing just to stop by. All I did was quickly shake our homeless friend's hand and tell him I was sorry for his loss. That's it.
Several times now that guy has stopped me in the parking lot and told me how much it meant to him when I showed up. I can tell he means it. It’s not everyday that someone goes out of their way to be there for him, so it's powerful when that happens.
Simply making a shift in how you view yourself will do more for most of the people in your neighborhood than any sermon you ever preach. I'm not saying to give up the latter for the former. We need to preach and to preach well. What I am saying, however, is that there should be more people who consider you their pastor than hear you preach every Sunday. Eventually, by God's grace, both of those numbers will grow for the good of others and the glory of God.
You may find your weekly to-do list a little bit more uncomfortable, but many will be comforted by Christ through you, which is a tremendous joy.
Jonathan Clater, Community Outreach Director at Griggs Memorial Baptist Church
Staying on Mission
The Mission statement of Griggs is simple. It is to make disciples, particularly in the neighborhood of Poe Mill. Staying on mission is very important to us. We believe in the local church and we believe in our mission. We feel the calling from God to minister to the neighborhood that is closest to our church. This means that all of our evangelistic efforts take place in Poe Mill, all of our events are designed to serve those in Poe Mill, and we do everything with the needs of Poe Mill in mind.
Mill Village Mission
Without trying to bore you with an exhaustive history of the mills in South Carolina, let me share a quick history to show why our neighborhood is the way that it is. During the 1950s and 1960s, Greenville was known by many as the textile capital of the world. The Mill named after F. W. Poe was one of the most lucrative in the area. Poe Mill was a successful operation from 1896-1977.
In its hay day, Poe Mill had a prime location sitting very near the main line of the
Southern Railroad and right off the well-traveled Buncombe Road. The houses surrounding the Mill were built for mill-employed families to rent at a reasonable rate. These were simple, well-built homes that provided a convenient location for many of the mill employees. Life in the mill village was determined by the operation of the mill. They woke up with a whistle at the mill, they ate when the mill employees ate, and they slept only when the mill was closed for the night.
After the golden age of textiles in the 60s, several factors led to the demise of textile mills in the South East. One of them is the owners of these mills found it cheaper to outsource labor overseas, leaving thousands of Americans unemployed.
Since then, the mill villages have fallen upon many economic and social hardships. Multiple generations have struggled to find work and now living in a seemingly endless cycle of poverty. This is the story of the West End of Greenville, South Carolina. This is the neighborhood where Griggs ministers.
One year ago God was using many factors in my life to call me into a life of ministry. I immediately started searching for a church where I could quickly get involved. I heard about Griggs from a friend and joined him the next Sunday.
The first Sunday at Griggs I remember hearing how the Pastor was walking around the neighborhood inviting families to the upcoming VBS. I thought that was so awkward (and a little dangerous) that he was walking around the neighborhood talking to people like that! I never imagined that a few months later that would be my job.
A few weeks later, I went to the neighborhood with Pastor Mitch and trust me, it was very uncomfortable for a kid from the mountains of New Hampshire. I had never done anything like that, but God was using even the awkwardness of talking to people who, in my mind, seemed very different from me to show me of glimpse of real service.
Serving Jesus is rarely comfortable. This summer as an intern at Griggs, I have found myself in many uncomfortable situations. I have no shower or stove in my house, my neighbors are definitely selling crack every night, I have run away from more stray Pit Bulls than I can count, I have been robbed at knife-point, and given a large portion of my money to feed homeless men and women that are hungry. (Mom I hope you are not reading this…)
The lessons I have learned about Jesus and service far outweigh the discomfort. The same Jesus who was rejected by His family and hometown, homeless and poor during His ministry, and ultimately nailed to a cross by people who hated Him is the same Jesus who understands my discomfort and has promised to be with me to the end of the age.
Jesus loves the neighborhood just as much as He loves me. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are powerful enough to change any sinner, and He has the grace to restore every life. This is the reason Griggs stays on Mission. We see it as our responsibility to bring this good news to our neighborhood. We are constant beneficiaries of the boundless mercies of God, so it is our passion to share of those mercies to all people.
Jesus said it so perfectly when he answered the Pharisees that were judging Him for eating with sinners, “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17).
As a church we know from our own lives that Jesus saves sinners, because we were all sinners. We were all sick, in need of the Physician. It is our mission to share the message of the Great Physician to Poe Mill. We love Poe Mill. You cannot separate Griggs from Poe Mill, no matter how uncomfortable ministry may be.
Click here for part one and two.
Mitch Miller, Pastor at Griggs Memorial Baptist Church
Click here for part one.
If you've agreed to pastor a revitalizing church, and you've been at it for over a week, you've noticed that there are moments of discomfort. I know this from experience.
When I was in college here in Greenville, South Carolina, I was invited to visit a little church on the other side of town. The name of the church was Griggs Memorial Baptist Church - "Griggs" for short.
Upon arriving, I saw an awesome, old-school style auditorium. Huge, long pews made of solid Oak. Well, I don’t actually know if they’re Oak. Solid something. The Baptismal was right up front built into the stage with a mural of a river on the wall behind it.
I was greeted by the pastor, a man who, at the time, was in his late 70's. Nicest guy I’ve ever met. He introduced me to his people, about 25 folks, mostly elderly, and they were the nicest people I’ve ever met. The service consisted of some great hymns, fiery preaching, and testimonies.
I started attending on a regular basis. I brought friends with me. The pastor was glad to see the young faces and let us serve and lead in whatever way we felt gifted. My friends led the singing and, by God’s grace, I was able to teach about once a month. Sometimes more.
Eventually, my senior year came and went, I graduated, and said goodbye to Griggs. Little did I know that I would be back. For the first 5 years after graduation, I worked as a Student Pastor. I was in a very large church, had every reason to be content and to stay the course I was on.
But, late one Sunday night, I got a call from the last remaining deacon at Griggs. He shared some very difficult news with me. The pastor of Griggs (now in his early 80's) was on his deathbed, many of the members had passed or were shut in, and only 5 members were now regularly attending the church. He asked if I could come back and help out.
I walked back through the doors for the first time in 5 years. I saw the pews, saw the river mural and caught up with the 5 remaining members. I left intrigued. A few more weeks went by. Though I was still on staff as a youth pastor at another church, I found myself asking all sorts of questions about Griggs.
"What if we reach the neighborhood surrounding Griggs?"
"What if I recruit some friends to help re-start Griggs?"
"What if Jesus isn't done with Griggs yet?"
After a while, through reading the scriptures and prayer, these "what if's" became callings. I truly felt the Holy Spirit lead me back to Griggs. I quit my staff role at the large church (who has been a great help through the process), got a regular job tutoring elementary kids, and started pastoring Griggs.
Shortly after, I noticed that revitalizing a church and reaching a neighborhood like the one around our church isn’t always comfortable. But that’s ok, because those of us who follow Jesus have a Comforter. He is with us always even unto the ends of the world.
We've been at it a total of three years now. We walk a hard but simple road - hold community events once a month, knock on doors and invite the neighborhood to them, build relationships with attendees, invite them back to church, then disciple them the best we can.
We've baptized 23 people, added over 50 members, installed 4 deacons, dedicated 6 babies, had attendances of over 100, remodeled a handful of areas in our building, and preached 1 gospel.
We have a long way to go, but we've learned some things along the way.
Revitalizing bodies aren't broken, they're wounded.
When I first came in I saw everything as a problem to fix, but as time went by I realized that there are real people with real souls behind those problems. Healing souls is more important than fixing problems.
Before a cool rebrand, before remodeling the stage, counsel your people, call them to worship, and help them re-focus on Jesus' example. Be a gospel oxygen tank connected to them at all times.
Revitalization happens from the inside out.
Very early on, I tried to change the name of the church. After discussing it with the church, we came to the conclusion that changing the name of our body would do as much good as changing the name of a guy on his deathbed. That move may at some point be necessary for a revitalizing church, but it doesn't heal the wound. So we have left the pews and the river mural alone. (I've come to love both).
You have to start revitalizing from the inside - the way you word your doctrinal statement, bylaws that have long needed to change, what happens at leader meetings, the mission, the vision, the traditions, anything internal. Start there. Then you can work your way to the outside - the stage, the building, the website, the branding, the social media, the name, the murals.
Revitalizations need friends.
One of the most helpful things we've done is make friends. We hooked up with one thriving church in particular that allowed me to come on a Sunday morning, cast the vision of our church revitalization, and try to recruit up to five families to help us out. The folks we recruited have all stuck with us, implemented programs, served, given, and led.
We have a long way to go. We have a lot of people left to reach in our neighborhood. But we’re giving it all we've got every Sunday because we can’t get one thought out of our head - "What if God uses our revitalizing church to help revitalize other churches?"
That’s our dream, to build ourselves up to health, sustain ourselves, and then give everything off the top away to churches who find themselves in the same spot we were in three years ago.
Again, this plan will not always be comfortable, but we always have the Comforter.
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.