Gary asked me to share about the process I went through when I started outreach ministries so here goes. I will share about The Matthew 25 Project in this post, and about the mission trips to Pine Ridge in a separate post.
First I should say that I by no means knew what I was doing and that was a good thing. It forced me to listen closer to God's leading and it meant that any "success" came from Him since I could not attribute any good that came from it to my own ability. Another advantage of not knowing what I was doing was that ingnorance is bliss. If I had known what I was getting in to, I may have opted not to do it.
The Matt. 25 Project was definately a process. It actually began years ago when we lived in Alabama. I was the leader of a very small youth group that basically consisted of 4 teenage guys who did not want to be in church but who were forced to go by their mothers. None of those boys had a good male role model in their lives and really, really needed a male youth leader but alas, they had already managed to run through every single person in that congregation and I was their last hope for a youth group of any sort. They troughoughly enjoyed fighting me tooth and nail on any given subject yet somehow I think they must have appreciated me on some level since one of the boys once got into our house and prepared a really nice dinner for me and my husband to come home to after being away in meetings all day. One thing I did was to encourage them in outreach. I did a sort of Matt. 25 Project there but it failed miserably due to lack of interest on the guy's part.
Fast forward 10 or so years....
I was now a pastor's wife at Winton Rd First Church of God and had grown really tired of trying to please eveyone and be the good little pastor's wife. That along with a lot of other baggage led to a severe depression and an eating disorder. One thing about anorexia, you can't hide it. You wear your issue like a neon sign for everyone to see. Several people in my church began to notice my drastic and unhealthy weight loss and expressed concern. Many thought I might have cancer because I looked a lot like a cancer patient except that I still had my hair. Not wanting to add fuel to the rumors and not wanting to put my friends in an uncomfortable situation when people asked what was wrong, I decided to go public and tell the church about my eating disorder.
That was both the best thing and the worst thing for me to do. I still do not know if I would recommend being so public in the early stages of recovery to others. On one hand, I had really great support from people at church - they really DID care. Not a day went by for months that I didn't have cards of support and care arrive in my mail box. On the other hand, by being so public about it gave people the impression that they had every right to comment or ask questions that were very personal in nature. I also felt as if I had an audience watching my every move as I went through recovery. Nothing like falling on your butt with an audience watching.
But, because I was so public, I gained a whole new set of friends. Every addict in the church who had hidden in shame came to me becuase they felt I "understood". In a sence, I think my being public made it OK to struggle and not be perfect for a lot of Christians who were really trying to follow Christ but were still caught in the bonds of their addictions. Unfortunately, too often in Christian circles we judge people who fail to live up to "Christian standards" and in so doing, push them further from the church and further from Christ and the grace He offers.
I was asked by many of these folks to start a recovery group at our church for those of us who struggled with addiction and/or mental illness. At that point I needed to just focus on getting better myself and that is what I did, but when I was later in a place where I was able to start a group, I did so. The New Beginnings Recovery Groups then started.
The groups were active for around 8 years I think (I'm bad with time). They eventually folded due to lack of committment. I have also found that it is sometimes harder for Christians to get into a recovery program even when they realize their brokenness. They still are taught and believe that they only need to "give it to God" and He will take care of their issues. While that IS true, what is often left out of that advice is just HOW to go about "giving it to God". Often there is a laziness that accompanies this sort of thinking as well. Recovery is hard. It requires humility and a willingness to do "whatever it takes" to get better. Just saying that you've "given it to God" is often a way to avoid the hard work of recovery.
Fast forward a few more years ....
I was still at Winton Rd. (our current church) and while I love my church, no church is perfect and it has always been my feeling that ours is far too ingrown and self-focused. We are really, really good at caring about those within our 4 walls, but not so good at caring for those outside of our own congregation. They tired to care for the addicts that came into our church as a result of the recvoery meetings but there was still the mindset of them/us. People would praise me for helping "those poor people" not realizing that they themselves were "poor", maybe the poorest of all because they did not recongize their brokenness.
I had wrestled with my discontent with that situation for years, literally, and had done my share of complaining about it. Nothing changed and frankly, it wasn't going to for a long time. During this time I was also working at a Family Christian Store and was also serving on the board of a local Christian Counseling Center. Being involved in both of those jobs gave me a good look at the church in general and I became more and more distubed by what I saw. At the Christian Counseling Center we had to beg for local churches to help us keep the doors open so we could continue to serve the low income families that often came to the center. Most of the time those pleas went unresponded to. This Conseling center was started as a ministry to the community and relied upon donations and the support of local churches to be able to provide professional counseling to anyone who walked in the door whether they had insurance or could afford mental health care or not. It was an opportunity for the Church to be the Church.
One partucular weekend things began to come to a head. I had a board meeting on Friday morning at the Christian Counseling Ctr. and saw just how desperate our financial situation was there. The fact that so many local congregations failed to support the center was disappointing to say the least. Then on Saturday morning I had a staff meeting at Family Christian Stores. A sales rep from a robe company came by to give us information about their line of clergy/choir robes. Some of those robes ran as high as $500 per robe. No one batted an eye at the cost... it was accepted that the robes were a necessary part of worship I suppose. Frankly, I still don't understand why churches would not think twice to spend that amount of something so completely unecessary and refuse to help a ministry that was taking Jesus to folks who did not attend church. To put it mildly, I got angry!
At the same time I was attending Miami University and majoring in psychology and minoring in criminology. Sherri Corbett was my criminology professor and she had a profound affect on me. (See my post below) Sherri lived her life by the adage "you can curse the darkness or you can light a candle". When she was murdered the last week of class, it changed my life in significant ways, one of which was to change my way of doing things. Rather than complain about all the church should be and wasn't, I decided to "light a candle".
While I was furious about the state of the church, I decided to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. I called a few friends who I thought might have the same vision I did for outreach and held a meeting to share my vision. I asked them to pray about whether they wanted to be a part of it or not. I dubbed this The Matthew 25 Project as I had done in the youth group in Alabama. The purpose was to bring to the congregations awareness the various opportunities in our community to serve, to be Jesus with skin on to people who did not know Him. Since I was not using church money or property there was no need to take this matter to our board of directors. It was a grassroots effort and we would raise our own money if need be. Too often the board does a really good job of doing their job - protecting the congregation's assets. I appreciate that they take great care in making their decisions but all too often things tend to get bogged down in discussion and sometimes never happen at all. I didn't feel I had time for that. Life is just too short to talk about doing something forever. I'd rather die trying to do something than to die talking about doing something.
Once we had a group of people who held the same vision, we planned a Sunday evening service, complete with a candle lighting service and the song "Go Light Your World". We had a slide show and highlighted several community agencies or ministries and talked about how people could be involved. We were not trying to do all of it - just to make people aware of what opportunities for service were out there becuase we believed that a lot of people sitting in the pews at church really DO want to serve and really DO want to reach out but do not know how to go about it or what ministry opportunites are available.
Of the many local opportunities, 2 stood out and became the most popular with people - Serve City - a homeless shelter in our town, Eagles' Nest - a home for developmentally disabled children.
Those two area ministeries are still being helped by our people though not as much as I would have hoped. Still, we as a church are moving forward in our outreach, even if it is in baby steps. We have a long way to go and a lot of growing and learning to do, but at least we're moving, sort of.
Gary, I will try to anwer your questions and talk about Pine Ridge in a future post.
- My passion is helping others defend themselves and their families. I am an NRA Certified pistol instructor, a NRA Chief Range Safety Officer, leader of TWAW Shooting Chapters - North Cincinnati, and the state leader of TWAW Shooting Chapters - Ohio. I also have a heart for the Lakota people and lead mission teams to the Pine Ridge Reservation each year, am founder and director of Backpacks For Pine Ridge,, and do various volunteer work in my own community. My greatest joy is being a grandma and hanging out with my husband of 30+ years.