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Transformational Leadership: Three Faithful Visionaries

Transformational Leadership: Three Faithful Visionaries

Huge accomplishments start with small steps. Effective outreach begins with one faithful visionary.

The spectrum of ACTS mercy ministries at historic, downtown Tenth Presbyterian Church developed slowly as one man worked patiently for years to nurture a vision for holistic Christian servanthood in the congregation. David Apple was raised in a socially and politically active family. Following his conversion, he began to dream of a ministry that would blend social work and evangelism. In 1988 he heard that Tenth Presbyterian Church was looking for someone to direct their ACTS ministry. At that time, ACTS consisted of five committees struggling to establish a foundation for mercy ministry, hindered by the church's lack of a guiding ministry vision.

David helped give the ministry more structure, and began mobilizing the congregation to expand their outreach. He embraced Tenth Presbyterian's long-standing evangelistic emphasis, but longed for the church to develop an equal passion for the kind of empowerment ministries that he had seen in the small African-American church where he came to faith in Christ. He wrestled with the socioeconomic and racial barriers that kept some persons from feeling welcome in the church. And he challenged church leaders to invest more resources in holistic outreach. For years, he prayed and shared his vision with whoever would listen-learning to do so with more gentleness and patience along the way. Gradually, God worked changes in the congregation, and brought new leaders with servant hearts. ACTS has blossomed into a cluster of ministries bringing friendship, hope, resources for personal development, and a deeper knowledge of Christ to people dealing with such deep-seated needs as homelessness, HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, and divorce.

The dynamic ministries of Life in Christ Cathedral of Faith exist because one couple answered God's call. When Dickie Robbins left his decaying hometown of Chester for a college education and a better future, he had no intention of returning. Ten years later, however, he and his wife Tina heard God's compelling call to address the problems in Chester that had made him want to leave. Obediently, they moved back to the inner city and founded a church. For the first few weeks, Tina was the only person in the congregation. They began preaching the gospel on drug corners and in public housing developments, and soon were discipling a circle of converted drug addicts. Today, a growing congregation has caught the Robbins' fire for evangelism and community revitalization by supporting one new outreach ministry after another. Despite many challenges and setbacks, the Robbins continue to bubble over with ideas and energy because of their faith in God's leading. "When there is a need, rather than join in the complaints, we create an alternative," says Dickie. "God sent me here to transform a community. And that is what we are doing."

Media Presbyterian was a thriving, middle-class evangelical congregation when Rev. Bill Borror became senior pastor in 1995. The congregation gave generously to mission projects, but few members were involved in local outreach. Without neglecting pastoral care, Bill started preaching and teaching about the imperative of evangelism and God's special concern for poor persons. "My hope and prayer," he expressed his vision in his first annual report to the congregation, is that "we will individually and corporately fall deeper in love with God and in turn, seek concrete ways to love our brothers and sisters, as well as those outside the [church] community, with the profound and radical love of Jesus."

Holistic outreach began springing to life. Bill developed Habitat for Humanity mission trips, which became a powerful tool for discipling members in holistic ministry. Lay leaders who caught the vision created a Faith in Action committee to rally church members to greater involvement in hands-on ministry. Bill hired an associate pastor for holistic ministries, Rev. Deb Miller, with a passion for both congregational care and missions. The church funded an urban intern to develop partnerships with inner-city churches and faith-based agencies. Members overcame their fear of the city to serve meals, rehabilitate houses, and lead youth programs. Members also began exploring new ways to overcome their fear of evangelism. Through these steps, Media has become a church known not only for great preaching and children's ministries but also for reaching out with the whole gospel.

The energy and dedication of one faithful layperson at New Covenant Church of Philadelphia, Ora Love, has led to an addiction recovery ministry in a network of churches. Ora became convinced of the need for a Christocentric rehab program that would integrate Scripture and prayer. She and a friend who had recovered from a 27-year addiction to heroin adapted Alcoholics Anonymous' 12 Steps, and organized the first meeting of Christians United Against Addictions (CUAA). Their vision was to develop a program that could be replicated in churches that wanted to help addicts but didn't know how. Ora and five others presented the ministry need to her pastor, Bishop Milton Grannum, who encouraged the idea, saying, "If it is of God, it will last." Since 1987, Ora has helped to start about 30 support groups in churches and homes throughout the Philadelphia region (not all of which are still meeting). She coordinates the groups and supplies them with lesson materials, training videos and tapes, contacts for guest speakers, and other supports. New Covenant Church has provided leadership training, funds, and oversight for the ministry.

Ora's friend, the ex-heroin addict who had helped her start CUAA, died of AIDS. Each year, Ora presents an award to an outstanding CUAA participant in her memory. The first award went to a couple who in Ora's words had been "gutter addicts"-the wife hooked on crack, the husband on alcohol. After Christ freed them from their addictions, they received training and founded a CUAA support group, which grew to 40-50 members. They had such zeal for rescuing people from addictions, they would go into crack houses to recruit people for the ministry. As those who are liberated from addictions become instruments of God's salvation for others, Ora's original vision bears hundredfold fruit.

It is individuals like Ora Love, Bill Borror, Dickie Robbins and David Apple who can help the church rise to the historic opportunities we face today. Don't be overwhelmed or intimidated by mega-models, or best practice churches that light the way of dynamic, effective holistic outreach. None of them started out that way! They each began with a faithful, visionary leader responding to God's call and working patiently despite the obstacles. Your church cannot become launch a comprehensive outreach program by next week. But, as these three leadership examples show, in God's time, it can happen in your congregation. Whether you are the pastor, a congregational leader or an influential layperson, God can use you to lead your congregation into exciting, expanding holistic ministry.

[Adapted from Churches That Make a Difference, Conclusion]