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.
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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.