Headlines from First Thoughts

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Community Ministry at FBC

From handouts to holistic ministry
(from http://www.baylor.edu/fcm_journal/index.php?id=48096)
When she looked at how many churches do community ministries, Carol McEntyre saw the best intentions but not always the best methods.
"We want to share the love of Christ and spread the good news but churches haven't always been effective in doing that," she said.
In her role as director of Buckner Community Ministries at First Baptist Church of Knoxville (Tenn.), McEntryre is finding ways to help the congregation and community organizations become more effective in how they serve others.
McEntyre works at the church as an employee of Buckner Children and Family Services, a globally oriented ministry that works with children in need, and a division of Buckner International, Dallas, Texas. A social worker, with an undergraduate degree from Carson Newman College and a Master of Social Work degree from Baylor University, McEntyre was first employed by the 1,700-member congregation in 2004 as minister to university students.
Life-transforming ministries
She has found that many churches engage in what she calls "commodities-based ministries," giving people food, clothes or money for rent. "But to me, building community ministries in the church means building ministries that are life-transforming."
She said the question she and First Baptist are exploring together is, "How do we take everything we do and make it about relationship and life transformation and not about giving stuff away?"
McEnytre uses her social work background to help congregation members better understand what the long-term effects of community ministry can be. Instead of the immediate good feeling of giving away a Christmas basket or sponsoring a child at the holidays, she said, "We are trying to go a step further and change lives. Once they [congregation members] hear the rationale, they began to understand that we could really make a difference and have just been totally on board."
The Rev. William Shiell, senior pastor at First Baptist Knoxville, said McEntyre's focus on transforming ministries has been revitalizing. "Carol empowers the church to develop relationships and move beyond the standard ‘programs and handouts' so often found in downtown ministry," he said.
Kids Hope USA
Kids Hope USA is an example of a community ministry that McEntrye believes can have a lasting impact and be an eye-opener for congregation members. The school-based mentoring program brings volunteers face-to-face with at-risk children and works in collaboration with Buckner in many parts of the country. She helped First Baptist become involved in Kids Hope USA two years ago at a local elementary school.
"We have 19 mentors at the school now. That means 19 hours out of every week there is somebody from First Baptist Knoxville at that elementary school," she said. "Once you start something like that, it's easier to say we don't want to just give stuff away, but we want to engage people in relationships."
As trust grows between the school and the church, the relationship becomes reciprocal. McEntyre said that when the school recently wanted to send some students to safety patrol training in Washington, D.C., the school social worker called the church and asked for help. With just one e-mail, the Kids Hope volunteers raised all the money needed.
"It's because those mentors know the school, love the school, love the children and are invested," McEntryre said. "If we had not had the relationship with the school, we could not have raised that money."
It's that kind of collaboration that Shiell finds so rewarding. "Buckner has provided the catalyst for our community ministry to come to fruition," he said. "Without their collaboration, we would not be able to minister in an effective, holistic way."
People want to make a difference
In addition, Shiell said that investing in such an empowered community ministry has attracted new members to the church. "Many people have been drawn to our church who want to make a difference in Knoxville," he said.
That's exactly what Buckner hopes will happen when it places a staff member into a church, said Scott Waller, director of program initiatives for Buckner International. "We don't place professional social workers into churches to do church ministry for them," he said. "We want to empower, equip and energize the congregation to do what only the congregation can do."
For that to happen, Waller said the church culture, vision and leadership have to align. "When all of that lines up, like it has in Knoxville, that's when the church can create long-term, sustainable, effective ministries," he said.
ESOL program for Latinos
Another example of such an emerging ministry at the church is its English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program. A large Latino population lives in the community where the church is located, and the ESOL program has grown quickly. This challenged the church to think about ways to take the ministry to another level.
"Last year we brought in a bi-vocational minister to begin a Latino congregation in our church," McEnytre said. "And so now it's a really interesting blend of the ESOL program feeding and nurturing the church, and the church feeding people into the ESOL program."
One positive result is that the demarcation between the church and the community has blurred. "It becomes just part of the DNA of the church. It's who the church is and what we do," she said. "It's not their community over there and the church over here.
"That's life-transforming, to move to a culture and not know the language and to end up learning the language, and to have this church body supporting you and encouraging you."
Serving the 'least of these'
Sharing her passion to serve with the members of First Baptist Knoxville has been a blessing, said McEntyre, who first felt called to ministry in college.
"I felt like serving people who were in need would be a very practical, tangible, real way to live out my faith," she said. "And I really feel like my role as community minister is mobilizing church members to serve the ‘least of these.'"
A lack of compassion for others is not the problem, McEntyre said, but she hopes to help people focus their compassion and then establish realistic, sustainable boundaries.
'Healthy helping'
"‘Healthy helping' is a term we've begun to use around here," she said. "We find ourselves asking ‘How do we help in a way that's healthy?' It's funny that this is a challenge, but it is," she said. "And now that we've begun down this road of community ministries, I have church members coming to me all the time, interested in starting new community ministries."
Recently, First Baptist conducted a churchwide, six-week program it called "Get Connected," in which sermons and Sunday school lessons focused on volunteerism. The program talked about setting specific boundaries for the church's community ministry programs and evaluating where members' passions lie.
In addition, McEntryre trained 27 church members in how to conduct interviews with individuals about their passions, interests, skills and gifts. Some of the questions included "If time, money and talent were not an issue, what would you love to do?" and "What kind of skills do you have that you would be willing to lend to the church?" These responses are still being studied, but already McEntrye sees pockets of interest emerging. McEntyre encourages other churches that are beginning or want to improve their community ministries to first look within.
"I would say the first thing you need to do is get to know your congregation," she said. "Get to know people. What are people passionate about and how can we channel that passion and energy and concern? "People are committed," McEntyre said. "Expect big things from people, and they'll rise to the occasion."

Monday, October 15, 2007

Jesus Doll

If you haven’t heard about the latest curiosity on Wal-Mart’s shelves, you will. After all, it’s just a toy. But this product has all the trappings of religious wolves. If the retailers don’t promote the product, the manufacturer is sure to garner your attention. Brace yourself, friends, for the arrival of the “Jesus Doll.” This toy is a talking Jesus designed ostensibly to teach kids about him and make a lot of money for the company.

I hoped that the action figure would go the way of all jokes. I actually received a promotional piece from the company (one2believe.com) asking me to ask you (they were so polite) to “take back the toy store shelves” in the “name of Jesus.” Yes, dear ones, this was a true “battle for the toy box” and the weapons would be your wallets, and of course, your sanctuary. I’m serious about their request; I just ignored it. Trying to follow Miss Corden’s maxim from kindergarten--ignore bad behavior--I saved the letter thinking that it would be a fodder for a humorous anecdote one day. Now the joke’s on me. Local station WATE and CNN Headline News have asked me to comment on the product. Apparently, the character will just not go away until Santa Claus has come.

What’s really going on here? Apparently, the company missed Jesus’ marketing campaign that he shared with the rich young ruler: “Go sell all your goods and give them to the poor.” This toy is another example of a company insulting the intelligence of the American consumer and using Christianity as a marketing label. The battle is not between G.I. Joe and Jesus. My concern is that the company treats Jesus as a product to be sold at the lowest retail price rather than a person who invites us into a relationship. The company illustrates the height of consumerism, commercialism, and materialism that has poisoned the witness of 21st century Christianity. The best way we can teach kids about Jesus is to learn the stories from the Bible, tell them using the God-given imaginations of adults and children, and share his story through our lives. The last thing we need to do is cheapen the image of the Son of God with another action figure.

Certainly there are toys I do not plan to purchase for Parker or Drake. This imaginary battle, however, is not waged over the selection on a shelf but the decisions made by parents when they realize that Jesus does not fit into a box or a brand. Instead of buying more toys, maybe we could just purchase a blanket or a pair of pajamas for the Christmas brunch. That would be money well spent and a story worth repeating: “I was naked and you clothed me.”

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