Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Them That Nobody Wants

About seven years ago, I was attending a national pastor's conference somewhere (I literally cannot recall where at this moment, goes to show you how life all runs together sometimes..and a river runs through it...), and I heard Matt Barnette, senior pastor of The Dream Center near Echo Park, California speak.  Matt is the son of Tommy Barnette, the famed Pentacostal preacher and church builder.

Matt spoke about how he decided to begin a totally different ministry from his father.  He wanted to do something in the inner city, and really connect with gangs and drug addicts and homeless people, and all the tapestry of brokenness that one finds in urban settings.  Matt eventually bought an old hospital (by sheer miracle of God, raising something like $7 million needed to buy it - Matt had nothing when he started).  Matt recalls how one time a gang member that he was trying to help to become a Christ follower, pulled a gun on him, put it to Matt's temple and said, "get out of here, or I will shoot you, M#?#?# F?@?@?er."  Matt literally said that he thought he was going to be killed at that moment.

After about three years of this incredibly intense ministry, Matt said that he began to wonder whether God really was doing anything in his ministry, whether God really had a plan for his life, whether God was really still in this thing called ministry.  As Matt was walking across Echo Park one day, at that time a drug bedridden place of crime and fallenness, he literally heard this voice from God;

"Matt, if you take care of the people that nobody wants, I will send you the people that everybody wants."

Matt later said that this was a turning point in his ministry.  What Matt struggled most with was the notion that he was "wasting" his life with people that were not worth "wasting" life on.  What Matt soon found is that God was sending him all kinds of people to help with his ministry.  Hollywood became engaged in Matt's ministry.  The actress Sharon Stone actually became a member and a large contributor to the church.  Other big names have gotten involved over the years.

Now, obviously this entire concept of having people that "everybody wants" come to your church is not exactly a highly spiritual motivation for starting a ministry.  It is probably not a good metric for a ministry to see it as a trade off of (1) taking care of homeless people on the one hand, (2) so movie stars will come to your church down the road.  However, Matt thought has got me thinking.

Who are the people that nobody wants in my current ministry setting?  Who are people that society has deemed "unworthy, un-cared for, un-wanted, un-needed, un-necessary, un-attractive, un-valued?"  Who are the "Uns?"  And then, secondly, who are the people that "everybody wants" in a church?

I have no distinct or solid answer for this.  But I am thinking deeply!  What are your thoughts?

All For Now?

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