Building A Report With Your Community

loving-our-neighbors-title

The weekend had finally come. This 21 year old college junior jumped in a car with 4 other students and set out for southern Ohio to share the love of Christ with the people in a small river city. As we neared our destination, my nose curled up at the smell of an awful odor. As we rounded the curve leading into the city, my eyes saw what my nose had already sensed. There they were…large smoke stacks billowing plumes of smoke high into the air, spreading the pungent odors of the local coke plant and steel mill. Everything in the area seemed to be stained by the smoke…buildings, vehicles, trees…everything. Boldly, I leaned forward in my seat and announced to this car full of young evangelists, “This place is horrible! I would never live in a place like this!”

I’ve been living in this very place for the past 36 years.

Over the years, I have come to absolutely love this community along the Ohio River. When I learned to look beyond the smell, the smoke and the stains, I saw the people. And they have totally captured my heart.

Initially, I was hired at Christ’s Community Church (CCC) as the Youth Pastor. After 25 years in that position, I became the Associate Pastor. Today, I am the Lead Pastor of this wonderful fellowship of believers. Scott Rawlings, the Founding Pastor, was a visionary. When this congregation was formed in 1970, they had one single desire: to impact this small city in southern Ohio with the love of Christ to the point that this area would literally become known as Christ’s community. Needless to say, that was a HUGE goal.

Christ’s Community Church desires to have as many people as possible come through the doors. So we do church Saturday afternoon to accommodate people’s hectic schedules. We do church Sunday mornings. We advertise…billboards, newspapers, radio, TV, Facebook. We bring in special guests…speakers and musicians…Ollie North…Dennis Swansburg (The Swan) …Newsboys…Sonic Flood. People fill the seats. People hear the gospel. Some respond. Some don’t. A few start attending. Many walk away. There’s nothing wrong with trying to fill seats with people so they can hear the gospel. But something was missing. Something was off.

Like most churches, our building was located in the community but we weren’t “in the community”. We wanted the community to come to us. It was easier. It was cleaner. It was safer.

In the early 1980’s, we made a conscious decision to step into the community…to step into the world of the poor and needy. This decision would be more than an easy stroll through the lives of those in poverty. It would be an effort to come along side of the less fortunate…serving them…helping them…and introducing them to Jesus.

We started by offering free home repairs to families who simply couldn’t afford the repairs. We partnered with the County Commissioners and the local Community Action agency and over the past 25 years brought much needed relief to a couple thousand families. We’ve re-roofed and sided hundreds of homes. We’ve built a couple of hundred wheelchair ramps and painted more homes than we can count. We’ve built 3 houses from the ground up. We even built a church building for a poverty stricken congregation.

While we continue to serve in that capacity, we have added so many more community outreach opportunities.

  • Angel Tree…providing Christmas gifts to children who have a parent in jail or prison
  • Wild Wonderful Wednesday…an after school tutoring program for children in the Wayne Hills Housing Projects
  • Single Parent’s Fair…offering single parents free oil changes, medical care, dental care, school supplies, clothes, food and so much more
  • Blood Drive…securing at least 300 pints of blood to supply the local blood bank
  • When the local Homeless Shelter had lost most of it’s funding and were faced with the possibility of closing it’s doors, we put a bucket in the back of the auditorium and asked our folks to donate $1 for the homeless. This money kept the Homeless Shelter afloat for 2 years. Today, the shelter is able to function on its own.

A Painful Reality

We recognized we had invested a lot of money, time and energy supporting mission enterprises in America and abroad. Why were we willing to save and spend thousands of dollars to fly out of the country to feed and clothe people in poverty and tell them about Jesus on a 10-day “mission trip” and not be willing to walk across our own street and minister to people in the same situation? That bothered us. It challenged us to re-think our focus.

In the re-thinking process, we didn’t develop a formula or manual to guide us at first. We simply saw the need, made the connections and jumped in with all we had. And today, CCC is a fellowship of believers with a reputation of really caring for our community.

The Catalyst

So what drives us? What causes us to take the risks we take? In our mind, it’s simple. We want to use absolutely every avenue we have available to present the love of Jesus with everyone in our community. Whether through a new roof, a Christmas gift or an oil change, we want people to know there is a Savior who loves them deeply, died for them, rose again and offers them a new start…a new life. And as Jesus transforms the lives of the people in our community, we draw one person closer to fulfilling our original goal…that this small river city will become Christ’s community.

As I sit and write these words, a note is affixed to my computer screen. The question written on the note is what continues to drive us in our desire for this small river city to be known as Christ’s community: If your church vanished, would your community care? I think I know what the answer would be for Christ’s Community. I pray it is the same answer for your church too.

Rick Clark is senior pastor at Christ’s Community Church in Portsmouth, OH. He is a graduate of Asbury University (BA) and an Asbury Seminary dropout.

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