What About An Associate Pastor for Neighborhood Ministries?

How do we plant new churches? Or a better question: how do we make lawndale-Murals-4disciples and love our neighbors in 2014?

For Mainline Denominations, the options have been:

  • The Parachute Drop Model – Stick an energetic pastor into a new subdivision and watch the people come join in droves. Effectiveness in 2014: not so much.
  • The Established-Church-Sending-People-to-Start-Something-On-The-Other-End-of-the-County Model – Church members who live more than 10 miles away agree to break off and start something new in an under-churched corner of town or in a neighboring county. Effectiveness in 2014: meh.
  • The Immigrant Start-Up Meeting in an Established Church’s Building – Two congregations partner to share space and maybe even staff. Effective in 2014: excellent IF the established church does not interpret “partnership” to mean “owner-tenant relationship to help us pay our bills.”

But we don’t need any more traditional, established churches with buildings and stuff – at least for now.

We need communities of faith for those who are spiritually curious, who would never “go to church” in a traditional setting.

We need established churches to call Neighborhood Pastors. Here’s my Big Plan to shift the paradigm:

  • For churches who can afford to call an additional associate pastor, encourage them to call a “Neighborhood Pastor” who serves only outside the church building. Seriously. No church office. No responsibilities to preach on Sunday from a pulpit (unless he/she is interpreting what a Neighborhood Ministry is all about.) Okay, she/he could come into the church building for staff meetings.
  • The Neighborhood Pastor would offer God Talk on Tap events in local bars, communion in parks, and clandestine prayer in coffee shops. That kind of thing.
  • The Neighborhood Pastor would befriend and talk with school guidance counselors, police officers, fire fighters, political officials, community health clinic staffers, etc. to figure out a) what the neighborhood needs and b) how we can pray for community leaders.
  • The Neighborhood Pastor would report back to the Established Church to discern what breaks God’s heart in the community and then act accordingly offering support, educational classes, and other ministries through the Established Congregation.
  • There would be no assumption that the spiritually curious folks who might gather would eventually join the Established Church – unless they decide to make that choice themselves.

This is a huge paradigm shifter because the Lead Pastor and Leaders of the Established Church would have to answer all those questions from members like:

  • Why are we paying for an Associate Pastor who’s not serving us and our needs? (Answer with another question: Does our church exist for us or for those who are not with us?)
  • What if these people never “join” and help contribute financially? (Answer with another question: Do you contribute financially to this church because it’s personally transactional? You make a pledge and then you get to have your wedding or funeral here? Or do you support the ministry of your church to make disciples and love neighbors?)
  • What if this so-called Neighborhood Pastor takes people away from our pews? (Answer with another question: Would you rather have people leave the church and go nowhere? Or leave something traditional to go to a different community where they could connect with Jesus in a new way?)

Thoughts? So many of our churches are (perhaps unconsciously) about perpetuating our institutions. Can you think of any Established Churches ready to make their ministry primarily about the neighborhood?


Image is a street mural in the neighborhood of Lawndale, Chicago.


12 responses to “What About An Associate Pastor for Neighborhood Ministries?

  1. Martha Shrout Brown

    Great idea!

  2. Dan Anderson-Little

    My wife and I are essentially putting this plan into action by starting a new church in our area of St. Louis. We have both served traditional churches, but we are now starting a new church in the area where we have lived for 10 years (for school district purposes we lived more than 12 miles from our previous churches so we are not in their backyards (although as you suggest in your post that shouldn’t matter)). We are working on creating a church for the “spiritual but not religious.” Even though we have lived in this community (not an up-and-coming suburb) for 10 years and know it very well, we have met with anybody and everybody who will share their insights with us–superintendents of schools, police department, fire department, hospital, health clinics, substance abuse clinics, business people, pastors from other denominations). We then spend our time in the community meeting residents, sharing our passion for this new church and inviting people to be part of small gatherings where they can safely explore spiritual issues and where they can serve the community. As people are wanting more in depth exploration of the Christian faith we will provide that. We don’t have formal worship for at least year to make sure we are focusing on people and not the institution. Our vision and hope is that we would gather enough people to ultimately be a sustainable congregation, but after serving traditional churches for more than 20 years it is awesome to be able to put all of our time (well, most of it) into meeting people where they live and work, and building relationships with them. Just two days ago, I walked into an insurance office, introduced myself, and within 5 minutes was praying with the three women who worked there. To be sure at other places I get a “thanks, but no thanks” but it is quite a shift in ministry. For us the key is that we are planting where we have lived for a long time and the second key is that we are investing in people first and only when we have built relationships will we think about investing in property. People are hungry for the Gospel–we just need to bring it to them and share it with them on their turf and their terms.
    Thanks for the always great thinking!
    Dan Anderson-Little

  3. Mark w. wendorf

    Great idea. Did it once in Cincinnati. Best gig I ever had.

    • Mark- can you say more about this? Was it a temp gig? Did an established church call you as part of their staff? What was the impact of your ministry on the community? The congregation?

  4. Love this concept/ministry. Makes sense to me. Would love it. Wonder about being at least a more visible part of the staff/brick and mortar community though – there may be a need for the connectional support to prevent lone-ranger-itis and burn out – sort of like the campus minister working alone in campus ministry (not tied to a congregation or other church-leader colleagues)

    • I see this as a person on a church staff so that burnout can be avoided. And connecting with church people and others would be crucial. Like any pastor’s position. She/he would be the convener/leader who equips others to be neighborhood ministers.

  5. I love it! Where do I apply? I’m available immediately.

  6. I’ve been discussing this with folks in my Presbytery as well. What if the Presbytery helped sponsor this kind of ministry but left it up to individual churches to do the calling? This idea offers much needed freedom and flexibility because new ideas can be vetted quickly by leaders in the local congregation. It also offers important accountability and mentoring because they are closely engaged with another pastor. You are on to something. I would love to talk.

  7. This sounds a lot like what Parker Lane United Methodist Church is doing in Austin, TX!!


  8. This is kind of a neat thought. It hits on some key things we’re missing. I personally think “Neighborhood ministries” like you describe ought to be a significant part of every church’s ministry regardless of whether they have a full-time person to dedicate to it.

    I’d offer a couple alternative readings, though, on these bits:

    “Stick an energetic pastor into a new subdivision and watch the people come join in droves. Effectiveness in 2014:”
    nobody knows, because we haven’t tried this for decades. [At least not at any statistically significant scale.]

    “Church members who live more than 10 miles away agree to break off and start something new in an under-churched corner of town or in a neighboring county. Effectiveness in 2014:”
    nobody knows, because we haven’t tried this for decades. [At least not at any statistically significant scale.] Seems to work all right in many cases for the non-mainliners who do this, though.

    The thing is, the key to either of those things working is that they also have what you’re calling for: real engagement with the surrounding people, not just appearing and expecting the neighborhood to show up at your church, but rather your church showing up to the neighborhood.

    So as described above, I’m not sure this doesn’t sound a little too solo. Shouldn’t all of this really be the task of the whole community within the community that is the church, not just some lone neighborhood missionary that gets sent out to report back? Also: regarding “we don’t need any more traditional, established churches with buildings and stuff – at least for now.” I agree that the buildings are neither the goal nor the measure, but I think we actually do need more of them. And I don’t mean a few. When we talk about planting new churches, we aren’t even thinking anywhere near the right order of magnitude. We think in ones or twos, though an entire, multi-million person metropolitan area. But once upon a time, a new neighborhood was built, and a new church was built up right in it. Might be a big one, might be a tiny one, but there was one in _every_ neighborhood. For whatever reason, we’ve lost that kind of imagination or audacity, and we hole up in the few, existing places that were there already, to which all the new people would have to commute _out_ of their own neighborhoods, and we wonder why we only get a few of those people. I think the neighborhood ministry you propose is great, but a neighborhood function like that, to really mean something, be effective, and draw people in, has to be done by a church community that is, as part of its identity, committed to that neighborhood, which means planting more entire churches.

  9. Pingback: This Week’s Links « Timothy Siburg

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