As an apostolic leader, I have always been drawn to the “build,” the “starting from nowhere.” Watching something come forth out of the ground enthuses me. I feel the same about what we are currently doing at Lives and Souls Missional Church—“The Uncommon Church.” And yet this time, it is also something very different.
Journey with me…
The Back Story
I remember my call to ministry as if it was just yesterday. Being raised in the church from a young age, working in ministry was and is an integral part of who I am. My call came out of Luke 19:10, where Jesus says he came to save the lost, the last, and the least. I clearly heard I was to “Go and serve the lost, last, the least… the leftover, left out, and left behind.”
In 2014, while serving as an associate minister, I began to burn out. I found myself struggling through meeting after meeting with senior leadership saying they were about helping the people and the community. But our programming didn’t match what was being said. I was even more frustrated that much-needed funds to do the work of ministry were being allocated elsewhere to church celebrations and dedication plaques for the building.
Sure, we did a few outreach events, but they were mostly attended by congregational members, along with a few of the same individuals from the community that came to every free event we had. As you can imagine, my enthusiasm for Sunday mornings literally drained me as I became resentful of the eleven o’clock hour. I repented, but I had to ask God to show me his heart or else. Yeah, I said that (LOL).
One week later, after little to no sleep, I saw a vision of a parking lot somewhere in the Atlanta metropolitan area that God was leading me to.
Each morning after that, I’d get up, grab a cup of coffee, and drive to the areas where I thought I might find this lot. After about two weeks, I pulled up to the exact location I saw in the vision and was excited that this must be where God called me to build! I stood in that parking lot, mapped out the location for every directional sign, parking attendant, and greeter. I did all of that. I was even more elated to find that there in the corner of the lot was an empty building. As I was writing down the realtor’s name to discuss signage, God spoke again: “I said nothing about a building.”
Now dumbfounded, I yet remained faithful, went home, and waited for further instruction from on high.
The next Sunday, my wife and I showed up at 2 p.m. as I heard him tell me to, with some food, coffee, and a Bluetooth speaker playing music. That’s all we had—no flyers, no billboards, and no radio announcements. Just the three of us.
As we stood in that lot for about 45 minutes on that overcast Sunday afternoon, wanting to question God of his plan yet again, out of the woods and from under the bridges they came.
Fifty individuals drifted towards my car. They were homeless, hungry, tired, and in dirty and torn clothes. Some were on substances and smelling of alcohol. They were black, white, and Latino. Some young, some old. Some were from poor families with generational trauma, others from the rough-and-tough cul-de-sacs of suburbia. Some were admittedly engaged in sex work to survive, some members of the LBGTQ community… yet all were beautiful in his sight. The Lord spoke again and said, “These (my children) are whom I called you to serve… now go and be the Church.”
Let me skip some weeks ahead. God blessed us with donations and volunteers. We quickly went multisite, with nine locations throughout the Atlanta metropolitan area. We were multigenerational and multicultural. Each location had a different dynamic and ministry focus. We had to make sure each location wouldn’t be easily identified (and raided) by the police or other agencies that potentially watched our social media accounts.
Ultimately, this led to us calling each microchurch by its target population. For example, the microchurch in front of the big-box hardware store we called “Laborers” ministers to—you guessed it—black and Latino day laborers. Without even knowing what was taking place, God enlarged our territory, and a network was built. We did well without walls, and became “The Uncommon Church.” Yep, an uncommon church filled with uncommon people doing uncommon things in uncommon places, yielding uncommon results.
For as many hardships that we have run into, there are just as many blessings that have come out of our work as well. Our come-to-Jesus moments (or, as we call them, “Soul Stories,”) happen a little bit differently and at a much slower pace than most.
We celebrate moments like Discovery Bible Studies that are held in the homes of former sex workers; healing and deliverance from alcohol and drugs in parking lots of fast-food restaurants; street revivals held on the corner of major interstates; partnerships with state and local officials so we could house hundreds of families in our Hotel to Housing program.
We have been able to serve over five thousand meals each month since 2020 through our #Feedthe5000 Hunger Initiative. We are launching a prison ministry this spring. We still do outreach to hundreds monthly through evangelism events and community projects. We are even launching a Spanish-speaking church this Easter weekend.
When we were challenged—and you will be challenged working in an urban context—we focused on a few grounding scriptures and our values.
Romans 12:2 (KJV)
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
Romans 12 shaped how we would innovate and think about what church would look like in the communities we serve. And for most, it is not a fit, but we are sure of this one thing, we were called to and chosen for this.
Matthew 25:34-46 (NIV)
Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger, and you invited me in, I needed clothes, and you clothed me, I was sick, and you looked after me, I was in prison, and you came to visit me.”
Matthew 25 shaped our core ministry minimum of what we would do in community.
Ephesians 4:1-13 (NIV)
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
But to each one of us, grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives, and gave gifts to his people.”
(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens in order to fill the whole universe.) So, Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers to equip his people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Ephesian 4 moved us away from a traditional pastoral leadership model and had us adopt an APEST [Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd, Teacher] team model. Under this new model, we have begun this year to focus on disciple-making and the equipping of his people for works of service by launching our own training and equipping platform.
I know what you are thinking: “How do they do all this with an average offering of just $4.22 a week?” As a ministry, we have had to become very adept in raising funds and figuring out how we could monetize parts of the ministry to do ministry. (Maybe I will get the chance to write more about this in an upcoming article.)
Let me close by sharing one last thought, to do ministry in an urban context, some may feel you must move and live in the community you serve or have your kids in schools in the community, etc. I think that’s fine. But in our context, we have found that openness to serve all (at all costs), trust, and consistency have served us well and will lead us into the future. Our Christ-centered-ness and Kingdom focus in all we do has been paramount in our successes thus far, but eyes have not seen, nor ears have heard what God has promised… What we do know is: our future will be uncommon.