When you have dinner with a kingdom builder you walk away changed.
Last night, Christian and I had the privilege of eating with two of the most amazing people. Tom and Carolyn Albright are the pastors of The Ripple Church. To know them is to know the people with whom they associate. See, Tom and Carolyn could have settled to do ministry within their comfort zone but instead decided to take a different root and become pastors to people who live on the margin of our community; the homeless.We are honored to begin a relationship with them.
We sat at their dinner table, as they shared how the church started and why they care so deeply. Their passion for people compels them in every way. When the church started they had many people attending from all walks of life, but when the numbers of those “without cars” became greater than those “with cars”, their attendance changed. You would think they would have pulled the plug and walked away saying it didn’t work. Instead, they dug in deeper and have committed their lives to a ministry of service knowing their call was unique and not for everyone. They fell in love with the forgotten and “managed” people of our city.They both have full time jobs as teachers but they sold their comfortable home in the burbs and moved into the city to BE with their church family. It ministered deeply to our hearts having just come out of a season of restlessness wondering if a church like this even existed near us knowing the ministry we were called to do.To hear them share this beautiful, messy and organic vision to reach our city was like a cup of cold water on a hot day. You can go anywhere in our community and find a church reaching lost people but you will be hard pressed to find churches reaching and filling their Sunday service with people who live life at the mercy of a broken system. I wish you all could have dinner with them, but since you can’t, I wanted to capture a few thoughts that will hopefully inspire you to take the road less traveled.
TOM AND CAROLYN ALBRIGHT
1) If you want to reach people, ditch the script.
As someone with a degree in church and ministry management, this reality is one to manage with great care; structure is necessary but not king. Tom shared with us that they had been part of well organized an well run ministries. They even share their challenges and hurts within church culture, but the one thing they expressed so clearly is that the people they are called to serve are on a journey. The journey of those with great challenges or obstacles over things that you and I find simple, does change the way they serve WITH their friends and neighbors. They replace parts of a “service order” with ways to connect relationally and foster more of a family gathering .They keep Jesus at the center and invite people to read, sing, eat, play and pray with each other. If you come from a tradition of four songs, a message, an alter call and closing prayer; you will be challenged to engage in this organic expression. But DO IT anyway. They have created a beautiful place for people on the margins, where most churches will try and “figure out” what to do with folks who they call family; they don’t worry about it. They just love. Think of your last family gathering. Did you provide a scripted order for each of your guests? You more than likely put together a loose agenda in your head; appetizers, dinner, discussion, dessert maybe a game and then coffee… Because every family has that ONE person (or a few), who never play to the script and you invite them anyway. What is your ministry gathering missing out on because some people don’t fit your script?
2) You need to fall in love with the people
Last year our community suffered a terrible loss of a homeless man who was crushed in a dumpster. Tom and Carolyn knew this man personally, and were called upon at his death to identify his body and take his ashes. When you see Tom talk about this situation you see his heart leak out of his eyes and not just with sadness, but gratitude for being able to call him friend. They have fallen head over heals in love with their church family and it shows. While at dinner, one of their neighbors came for weekly prayer and without skipping a beat they entered her pain and story. We prayed for one another and our community. I have been in ministry for 16 years and fully called to the margins. I’m am called to “the land of misfits”. I’ve spent years in both resourced and under-resource contexts; for which I am incredible grateful. I’ve seen ministry leaders push off, hand off, skirt around the broken, but they are missing out. Tom and Carolyn allow their hearts to be broken and mended by the very people they are called to serve. Isn’t that how love works? Sadly our beholden vow is often not to our call to serve people, but to make a better church experience. I fear that the only thing we’v really made is a church model, when all along we were called to disciple people.
In Galatians 6 it says, “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. 2 Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. 3 If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.” (NLT) The only way we are able to do any of this is because we love people; not in a Twitter kind of way, but in a head over heals in love with them because without them there is a hole in our heart.
Let’s pray today that we would fall head over heals in love with people whom we are called to serve. Regardless if they are “with cars” or “without cars”, that we would examine our ways and ask one life changing question that Jesus asks Peter; “Do you love me Peter”? ” Then feed my sheep.” John 21:15 My guess, is we have lots of hungry people in our churches that need to be fed not by the weekend expression alone, but by a relationship that plummets them head over heals in love with the Jesus they experience inside someone else.
CHECK OUT RIPPLE http://ripple-allentown.com