Those who know me know I have been on an interesting journey the last 5 years. It actually goes back farther than that, but 5 years ago marks my return to Franklin, TN and Franklin Community Church. It was at that time, after much prayer and reflection, that my ministry focus changed significantly. The simplest way to describe my journey was (and is) a change from being “seeker sensitive” to being “justice centered.” God has called me to minister to a struggling community in a very affluent city. I would not trade my journey for the world! The last 5 years have been the most rewarding years of my 20+ years in pastoral ministry.
If you have read my blogs then you have heard my describe some of the things that take place at Franklin Community Church. I think it is time you hear from someone else.
One of my elders (who will rename anonymous at this time) has shared the story of our church with the FWB church he grew up in. They have been interested in what we are doing and have offered to help. My elder wrote an email to the pastor of his home church. In the email he describes our church better than I can. I have changed the name of the pastor, and the church, to protect their anonymity.
What is great about this letter is the change in the life of my elder. He grew up in a very white and very conservative FWB church. The change God has brought into his own heart and life is nothing short of miraculous.
Please read his email. I did receive permission from him to share.
I would love to hear your thoughts and comments.
Well, hello and Happy New Year. I trust this email finds you and your family all doing well. I guess I can start by making the statement true that the only time you have heard from me is it has been about money. I don’t think I have emailed you before, so I can now make that a true statement.
Our church has been on a different road. A dirty one to say the least. Pastor Kevin has had a heart for the poor and overlooked. Our church is about 50/50 as for black and white mix. The white part is middle class hard working people – same as what makes up First Church. The black part is mostly recovering addicts, thieves, drug dealers, etc. And, I have to say that it has become extremely wonderful in working alongside them and worshipping with them. Many of them help once a month at the food distributions that our church is involved in with another church, and none of them have come to take “advantage” of the church. Many of them have been attending now for two to three years and are inviting their family and friends – which are responding.
We started out trying to reach a neighborhood that none of us would want to live in, or near. It seems that in spite of our efforts to relocate and build, God has determined we are to meet Him in that neighborhood to work with Him there. Kevin found a program last year called Jobs For Life (www.jobsforlife.org). We had our first class last fall and we will begin our second class soon. The Jobs For Life program is a national program that is scripturally based in teaching people that God created us to work, God calls us to give an honest day’s work to our employer; and the course helps them in developing resumes, presentation of themselves in their dress and speech, interviewing training, and of course a proper handshake and greeting. After helping in the class, I was deeply saddened by the fact that almost every black male grows up without a father or father-like man in their developmental period of life.
Dad knows about some of the work our church has been doing and he and mom have been at church to experience ringing cell phones, talking, and all the other things that go along with people not being raised in church; but the one thing we do not have to teach them is how to worship. Our church has now become a place where many people in the community believe that they can once again find hope and experience going to church with people who do not look down at them and accept them with love. And I can tell you that it was nothing more than the love of Christ through me to help me transition into what is now something wonderful and enjoyable.
We have had the great fortune recently of other people saying that they want to be involved in some small way. A company has recently taken on the fund raising passion of trying to raise $500 to $600 to cover the materials for our next Jobs For Life class. A couple of area churches have said that they could never get acceptance by the neighborhood and they provide gift cards to us to help with single mothers, etc.
Our youth Bible study is moving to an old black church that sits almost in the center of the hood. It is certainly not somewhere that I would show up to go to church. It is on a street that is known as the street to get drugs. I don’t even drive through that hood. But, we are moving our youth bible study to that church beginning tomorrow evening and it is open to the neighborhood youth. We have one young black man (JT) that had been attending church for about two years and he has stepped up and said if you meet in that neighborhood I will be there and if I am there no problems will occur. This is a rare black man because if you are a black man and try to better your life than the rest of the people, even family, will do whatever they can to bring you back down.
(You probably didn’t know I could talk this much). The reason for my writing is to see if you and the church board would consider praying about partnering with us to help. One area that has been on my heart for a few months now is getting financial assistance for this young black man (JT) to get through barber school. I am guessing the cost to be between two and three thousand dollars. JT is a felon and learned to cut hair in prison. He has been out of prison for almost two years and works at a Chrysler dealership prepping cars. He’s no saint, but he has paid his debt and has been faithful at church. He has a great passion to try to make provisions for and concentrate on the youth. JT has put together a back-to-school neighborhood picnic, he put together a football game that was played prior to our Thanksgiving dinner – which we had what we would consider an overwhelming turnout.
What I am asking you all to consider in prayer is basically providing seed money for JT’s barber college. The money would pay for JT to go to school, and once JT has gotten established he would begin repaying the money at an affordable amount each month. We would continue to use that seed money to fund the next person’s education. After time, hopefully this is something that would grow larger and larger. JT knows nothing about this endeavor. Whenever I ask him about getting into barber school he says it just isn’t affordable right now, but one day God will make it so and he just has to be patient in the meantime.
If this is something you all could partner on, I would love for JT to come up one weekend to meet with you all and share his story.
Thanks for your consideration.
There you have it. One of the things that encourages me the most is not the change we are making in the community but the greater change God is making in my heart and, as you can see, the heart of my elders.
What has God called you to do?
(NOTE: All the pictures in this post are from the church’s Thanksgiving Dinner and football game referenced in the email)