Here’s the story of one young pastor and his family who have taken a most unique approach in defining the neighborhood boundaries of ministry, and in so doing, challenges us to ponder not only our definition of church, but to reconsider the parish model of old.
Neighborhood Church is not your typical church. We don’t occupy a traditional church building. We don’t function as one would expect a conventional church to function. Instead, we have “staked out” a specific neighborhood in the city of Fresno where we hope to reflect and manifest the Kingdom of God to those who call this neighborhood “home.”
There are 923 homes in our neighborhood, some of which have been taken back by financial institutions. There they sit, empty and boarded up. As for the remainder of the neighborhood, many of the families have been hit hard by the current economy. Of the 3,500 residents, a significant percentage are migrant farm workers, with 71 percent not even having a high school diploma. We experience 18 percent unemployment within our neighborhood, with many more under-employed, and I regret to report that there are some who have resorted to illegal activities as a result of their hardship. This is our “home”: high unemployment, a high crime rate, but fertile ground for the Holy Spirit.
Before I go any further, I need to point out that my wife and I made the conscious decision to not separate ourselves from those to whom we felt called. We believe that ministry should be incarnational. Thus we moved into the neighborhood with the attitude that this was our “flock”—lost sheep in need of the Shepherd. We didn’t come to preach or teach. We came to reflect the life of Jesus in such a way that the entire neighborhood would be impacted for the better. And since making that commitment to live in the midst of the “sheep,” we, and our neighbors, have experienced God in some powerful ways.
With such a high unemployment rate, the children of our neighbors often experience barriers to employment. One of our dreams has been to repurpose a dilapidated workshop in our neighborhood and turn it into a place where neighborhood teenagers could be paired with Christian mentors who are skilled woodworkers, welders, and artisans. Not only would they learn a trade, but they would learn about Jesus at the same time.
Of course, the reality of coming up with the funds to purchase the necessary equipment seemed to put this dream out of reach . . . that is, until God introduced us to John.
John contacted us because he had heard about our vision for a neighborhood-focused church. We met the next day, and here’s the story he shared: “Ten years ago, my passion was motorcycling. I had a beautiful Harley that I loved to ride. One night while sleeping I had a dream. In my dream Jesus came to me and said, ‘You need to give away your motorcycle.’ I woke up feeling convicted, but I just couldn’t give it up. For three months I resisted God. I loved my motorcycle! But I finally relented and gave it away. Since then my passion has been woodworking. I amassed for myself a garage full of high-end cabinetry-making equipment. Three months ago I was sleeping and I had another dream. In my dream, Jesus came to me just as he had before, but this time He said, ‘You need to give away your woodworking equipment.’ I woke up feeling convicted. Ten years ago I resisted God, but this time I knew what I had to do. Joe, would you like my woodworking equipment?”
I didn’t have to answer . . . God was already saying “yes.” A man I had never met was going to give Neighborhood Church nearly $10,000 worth of woodworking equipment to further God’s Kingdom in our neighborhood. Today there is a repurposed 100-year-old workshop in our neighborhood being used to teach neighborhood kids about Jesus while they learn a trade.
– Joe White—Neighborhood Church, Fresno, California