We invited Lisa Welter, a Made to Flourish pastor, to share how a theology of faith, work, and economics helped her reshape her church’s mission and outreach efforts.
Seek the peace of your city. Jeremiah 29:7
As a pastor, I carried a burden to see change in my community because I felt the mission of the local church should produce that. We were stuck in a rut with event-based approaches to engage our backyard, seeing little to no results when it came to community change. Don’t get me wrong, event-based approaches are needed, but that was all we were doing as a collective body. Yet the nightly news of sex-trafficking, youth in prison, crime, children in dire straits, and addiction on the rise bothered me each day.
I’ve been testing and practicing concepts from Made to Flourish, When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett, and Acton University for several years. I’ve recognized that lasting community transformation occurs when children and families flourish but that it requires a different mode of operation for the local church to bring that about.
The role of the church is distinctly different from all other entities in the community and yet most of us are not truly revealing how different we are from other civic groups. Anyone can host a food drive, but only Jesus can change a human heart. There is no shortage of food drives and backpack drives—but there is a massive deficit in our community for hopeful relationships and flourishing communities. We have a special role to play in our communities and we can do it while upholding the Great Commission (Matt 28), the Greatest Commandment (Matt 22), and the biblical mandate to care for the vulnerable and poor (Matt 25).
The local church has the same mission and exists for relationships. We believe all people matter to God, are made in His image and have value, dignity and worth. Do you see the kind of lasting change that Christ desires to bring to each community as He reconciles all things to Him (Colossians 1) and produces peace in the city? Just watching the evening news shows us there is no shortage of unrest, injustice, and pain surrounding our neighborhoods. The question for us is ‘how do we provide relevant pathways for our congregation to practice what is preached each weekend and truly live out the scriptures above?’
I am a pastor just like you. I’ve walked the road you are on and I’ve wrestled through hard questions that relate to the mission of the Church and the strategies of local missions. I spent seven years on staff as a missions pastor, in one of the largest churches in America, and spent most of my time assessing, tearing down and rebuilding a biblically-oriented local missions strategy that resulted in a more efficient way to lead mission efforts centered on the concepts of faith, work and economics. It works. It makes sense. It’s like unlocking the church’s full potential and stewarding the talent and people resources that are in your care as a pastor.
I had a goal to provide simple pathways for the majority of our 23,000 attendees. Building an effective strategy that served the 80% not the 10-20% was a major undertaking, but I knew I could not be relevant to the majority unless it somehow fit in practical everyday life. I figured it was time to teach people how to live out the Gospel in everyday living. I wanted them to have a refreshed perspective of how to “see” mission and to integrate it into serving the poor in spirit, the addicted, most vulnerable and broken wherever they found themselves: at work, on the soccer field, in their homes, etc.
To do something new, I had to stop the strategies that were competing with this goal. We eliminated the constant stream of “handouts,” meaning we stopped food drives, backpack drives, and other types of drives as we determined we were literally holding people back from their God-given identity and potential. This was a huge turning point for us and I now look back and realize we were on our way to discovering a new way to distinguish the unique role the local church could play.
This tearing down process took approximately 12 months in our mega-church setting and we prayed that God would reveal a new, relationally-driven strategy. In the meantime, I proposed we dissolve the missions department and integrate our new mode of operation into the discipleship process. With so much internal streamlining, I took on leadership of our Care Ministries and pastoral development and began integrating Made to Flourish concepts into all of those ministries. We slowly moved our church to focus on child welfare in 3 main categories: finding homes for vulnerable and orphaned children, resourcing those homes doing the hard work, and independent living (mentoring, job skills, and employment so that they can become all that God created them to be and to flourish).
Because of the fantastic changes and streamlining I’ve seen over the years, I’ve now left my pastoral role to launch a new non-profit centered on churches engaging in child welfare. As I built this new strategy, I found opportunities for the church to play a very significant role in child welfare that our local government and expert non-profits simply could not address. When child welfare has access to people and hope, and it’s done in a way that compliments everyone’s mission, community transformation can take place and the most vulnerable will flourish.
I believe the church is going to see a new day and new opportunities as it embraces the faith, work and economics movement. The church on mission, seeing its own potential of the Gospel lived out in every area of life, is a beautiful picture of Christ’s power, redemption and reconciliation for all to flourish.
Lisa Welter lives in St. Paul, MN with her husband Cary and their three teenagers. With a Master of Arts in transformational leadership from Bethel Seminary, Lisa has spent much of her ministry experience in local missions, pastoral development, and care ministries at Eagle Brook Church. She is now the founder and executive director of the Connected Kids Initiative, a faith based nonprofit focused on mobilizing the local church into the growing needs in child welfare.