May 2, 2016

Methods of Metropolitan Ministry

Outreach to people in large cities has one common denominator: service.

Jared Thurmon

I had the pleasure of reaching out to a few pastors who have each ministered to me personally. They represent some of the remarkable diversity that the world Seventh-day Adventist Church has to offer. Starting new churches and outreach efforts is all part of our church’s global evangelistic focus with its special focus on large metropolitan areas.

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Jessie A. López

Associate pastor for the Atlanta North Seventh-day Adventist Church

How would you describe the unique ministry opportunities of Atlanta?

More than 10,000 people in metro Atlanta experience homelessness on any given night, with more than 40 percent being women and children. An estimated 755,400 people in metro Atlanta and north Georgia turn to food pantries and meal service programs to feed their families each year. Atlanta is also ranked the number one hub for sexual slavery in America: as many as 100 and 200 girls are sold into slavery in Atlanta every month.

What are the opportunities your church is seizing upon?

My church is actively involved in the following projects:

We sponsor refugees from the Friends of Refugees Providing Education and Empowerment (FREE) organization. We sponsor 25 children with school uniforms and everyday clothing. In addition to these students sponsored, we provide monthly/quarterly food, furniture, book, and clothing donations to refugee families in Clarkston, Georgia, who participate in this program.

We support the community assistance center (CAC) in Sandy Springs, Georgia, with monetary donations, food drives, toiletry drives, toy drives, and service projects.

Our community service department reviews and approves requests for financial assistance from church and community members daily. These financial requests include grocery gift cards, repairs, rent, utility bills, bank statements, tax forms, day care, etc.

We serve Atlanta through the Compassion 100K campaign with monthly service projects benefiting existing organizations that help homelessness, hunger, human trafficking, and health.

How has ministering in an urban setting changed in the past few years?

There has been a shift in ministering from community-belonging to fighting for a cause. The church is more involved in getting out and serving the community. Instead of waiting for them to come to us, we go to them. Now we are making ourselves more visible in the community, getting involved in community runs, fund-raisers, community parades, and being more available on the compassion side.

How does your Adventist identity influence your efforts in city ministry?

Love is at the center of the Adventist message of Jesus’ soon return and the proclamation of the three angels’ messages. My Adventist identity embodies this message of love that was perfectly exemplified through the ministry of Jesus.

When people see God’s character of love in me, when I am asked who and what church I represent, I proudly share that I am a Seventh-day Adventist. It is then that the conversation begins. As Ellen G. White says: “The exercise of force is contrary to the principles of God’s government; He desires only the service of love; and love cannot be commanded; it cannot be won by force or authority. Only by love is love awakened. To know God is to love Him.”1

What does public evangelism look like in your community?

Public evangelism, known for the traditional four- to six-week evangelism series, now places new emphasis on one-week reaping series with various service projects and community seminars throughout the year. Public evangelism is still very alive and is more community service-oriented. The more we serve, the more people are interested in being part of our faith community. Our church does very well with health seminars. They are the feeders to our evangelistic meetings.

What advice would you share with pastors and church members in other cities around the globe?

Revelation 12:11 speaks of Christ’s followers being known by their testimony. Personal testimony is very powerful. Never think that you need to be someone else to do the ministry God has intended for you to do. God created you for a unique purpose, and only you can fulfill that mission.

What is your big goal for the next 12 months with your church and community?

Our goal is to strengthen our members by getting them involved. This is combined with our goal as a congregation to learn the immediate needs of our community.

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Marquis Johns

Senior pastor of the North Philadelphia Seventh-day Adventist Church

What drives you to serve in such a large city as Philadelphia?

As an adult convert to Adventism who was born in a large city (Los Angeles), I have a passion for those who receive government assistance, be it financial or medical. I grew up on government assistance myself. There is a language native to those planted and grown in the impoverished neighborhoods of America’s metropolitan areas; people from those areas understand it. It is the language of need. I am all too familiar with that language; therefore my heart beats to introduce people who are where I’m from to the One who taught me the language of faith.

What opportunities is your church seizing upon?

We are just a short walk from Temple University. We have some exciting plans to minister to its students in the coming year. We believe strongly in the potential of young minds, such as the pioneers who started this movement. We hold to the promise that the Spirit of Prophecy says that the message will once again come with power to the cities of the East.

What are the difficulties of engaging church members in outreach in your city/community?

Because many of the churches in our cities have existed there for so long, we behave as if we’ve turned every stone when it comes to outreach. We feel we’ve done and achieved everything we’ve needed to do. All we need to do now is make sure our doors stay open. Unfortunately, sometimes we want the doors to stay open only for us.

In what ways do you equip members to be leaders in various outreach ministries?

The most important thing we have to do is create mission and vision statements and core values that inform an outreach strategy. When we don’t know what our mission/vision/core values are it prevents us from adequately developing outreach strategies because we haven’t put in place the core values necessary for the church to rally around. It’s great to set up sessions to teach members how to knock on doors and pass out tracts, but if they don’t know
why they are knocking on doors and passing out tracts, it won’t have an effect. The church’s mission, vision, and core values help members understand why they need to do outreach.

How does your Adventist identity influence your efforts in city ministry?

As pastors, we love the Ellen White statement in The Ministry of Healing and focus on page 143: “Christ’s method alone.” But a quote on page 19 says, “Jesus devoted more time to healing the sick than to preaching.”2 Our denomination saw its most explosive growth when it was meeting the needs of the downtrodden and disenfranchised. Integral to our church’s body is its “right arm”: a health message that meets people’s physical needs. We are one of a few Christian denominations that emphasize health and wholeness as much as we do eschatology.

In cities such as Philadelphia, where the poverty ratio is one of the highest in America, where poor dietary choices are the most easily accessible and affordable, it’s important for us to remember our message of health and wholeness.

What does public evangelism look like in your community?

Public evangelism is not just about preparing people for the hereafter, but also preparing them to prosper in the here and now (3 John 2).

Philadelphia needs free dental and medical clinics that will help build a culture of good health care in the inner city. Philadelphia needs resources to teach its youth how to interface with community officials. Philadelphians need to know where to get jobs, and where to get grants for school and starting small businesses.

What advice would you share with pastors and church members in other cities around the globe?

We need to use the most meaningful language possible. We need to invest in the most meaningful efforts possible. Doing that may involve shifting how we categorize our efforts. Evangelism can sometimes seem to be a Band-Aid on a deep wound. What we need is discipleship: a necessary operation to make sure that the wound doesn’t bleed out. Discipleship involves more than a one-time public evangelistic campaign. Discipleship is inviting people into your life. Jesus didn’t shut people up in school buildings. Jesus invited people to do life with Him.

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Myron Edmonds

Senior pastor of the Glenville Seventh-day Adventist Church in Cleveland, Ohio

How would you describe the unique ministry opportunities of Cleveland?

Cleveland has a lot of challenges economically and socially. A lot of family brokenness, poverty, recidivism, kids raising kids, human trafficking, and other urban ills. Yet all these challenges present opportunities for our church to meet needs and make a difference in people’s lives. People here are hungry for love. Loving people and meeting their needs is our opportunity.

Which ministry opportunities do members find most interesting and are easiest to attract participants? Which are the hardest?

Ministry to children is the easiest. Children want to experience the overt message of the gospel.

The hardest is ministering to their parents and families who are more into success, money, and upward mobility, the American dream. They seem to have no room for God. So we pray for a crisis that will open their hearts to God.

What opportunities is your church seizing upon?

Ministry to families by way of children. We are currently in the process of adopting three schools (two public, one private) where we take after-school and in-school programs to kids.

We just sold the building we occupied for 60 years and are right now preparing to redevelop a former Kmart building we purchased. New features will include a family community center, a café, gymnasium, cross-fit gym, high school virtual leadership academy, media center, and more. We are even considering a food truck specializing in fresh juice smoothies, etc., to help fund our inner city initiatives.

How does your church discover the needs of its community?

We actually have a program called “GO SABBATH” every fourth Sabbath. We go into communities and connect with the community through prayer and assessment, seeking to understand what the unique needs are and how we can meet them. We also hold community educational engagement events. This event doubles as a big needs assessment drive.

How has ministering in an urban setting changed in the past few years?

The difference in the past was that you were in a sense competing against other Christian belief systems. But now many families in the urban areas have no religious affiliation and are totally unchurched, so you’re starting from ground zero.

What does public evangelism look like in your community?

For us, our 52 Sabbath services serve as our primary public evangelism strategy. We seek for each Sabbath to have the energy, excellence, and inspirational music and preaching that a traditional meeting would have once a year.

What advice would you share with pastors and church members in other cities around the globe?

Constantly create outreach activities and serve the needs of the community. Seek to do a few things well instead of a bunch of things poorly or in a mediocre way. Create an environment of praying for the community.

  1. Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), p. 22.
  2. Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1905), p. 19.

Jared Thurmon is strategic partnerships liason and director of marketing for Adventist Review.