What we’re missing

May 8, 2017 by

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After pastoring and church planting for 50 years and ministering in more than 70 Mennonite congregations as a consultant, I believe something is missing from our churches.

More than 2,000 Bible verses focus on the poor and marginalized. Shane Claiborne asked a group of people who claimed to be followers of Jesus whether Jesus spent time with the poor. Nearly 80 percent said he did. Then he asked if they spent time with the poor. Less than 2 percent said they did.

Do you know the poor by name? Have you ever invited to a backyard barbecue someone who could not invite you back? Jesus said we should (Luke 14:12-14). Critics accused him of eating with outcasts (Luke 15:1-2) and of being a drunkard, a glutton and a friend of “sinners” (Luke 7:34). What do people say about us?

We’ve gotten sucked into the American dream. Houses are three times as large as 70 years ago, though our families are much smaller. The self-storage industry is booming. We must have a newer car, perhaps a boat. We can go to a football game or restaurant and spend more money there than we drop in the offering plate.

We have closed our eyes to the poor. Turn off the TV and learn to know the people who have moved into your community. Jesus says, “Open your eyes and take a good look at what’s in front of you. . . . It’s harvest time” (John 4:35, The Message).

Many of our congregations are small, which is an advantage for reaching those on the margins. In a smaller congregation you will learn to know them. Your congregation will join heaven in rejoicing as you see each life transformed. This happened scores of times in my many years of ministry. It is happening at LifeBridge Community Church in Dover, Ohio, where I have the privilege of helping our son Chet.

As you reach those on the margins, you will gain a new level of faith as you depend on the Holy Spirit to bring transformation. As you disciple your new friends, they will in turn disciple others. New people bring new people. This will revive your church. Those previously on the margins will transform your congregation.

Jesus set the example of eating with people, building relationships and making disciples. It takes time, effort and a change of priorities. It is the missing ingredient.

David Eshleman
Dover, Ohio

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