Believing God for a Mobilized Church
Reaching the Lost, Helpless, Hurting, and Oppressed
by Zollie L. Smith, Jr.
With over 300 cultures and subcultures, America has become a nation of diversity. Not only has it evolved as one of the most diverse nations in the world, but four unique people groups spanning various cultures have developed within America as well.
The first people group includes those with escalating social ills such as abortion, religious discrimination, racism, alcohol and drug abuse, human trafficking, gambling, gangs, etc. These ills denote circumstances that result in suffering and distress within our society that quickly define our nation. They affect victims’ quality of life and require strategic economic efforts, trained personnel, and facilities to eliminate their sources or causes. In all cases, these social ills overflow adversely into society. These ills directly or indirectly affect everyone. I love the analogy of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:26 where he compares the church to the human body: “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad” (NLT1).
The second group includes those who have special needs. Some physical or mental debilitation impedes these individuals’ quality of life. The government officially defines them as Americans With Disabilities according to the government’s Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
The third group contains those Jesus called, “the least of these my brothers and sisters” — the hungry, thirsty, homeless, underprivileged, destitute, infirmed, incarcerated, widows, and orphans.
The fourth group is those who have no relationship with God. I call them the perishing. This group includes some from the previously mentioned groups who assume they are living with a good-to-great quality of life. Little do they know, however, that they are the most dysfunctional group in America. They are lost and destined for eternal destruction.
The Crisis in America
To fully understand that America is indeed a mission field, please note some startling statistics. According to the United States Census Bureau U.S. & World Population Clocks, on January 25, 2013, the United States had a total population of 315,217,466, making it the third most populous country in the world.2 Now, let’s see what helplessness looks like in America.
- The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty states that an average of 3.5 million people will be victims of homelessness, including 1.35 million children in a given year.3
- According to the Bureau of Justice statistics there were 6,977,700 offenders at year-end 2011, per the “Correctional Populations in the United States, 2011 Report.”4
- Approximately 56.7 million people living in the United States had some kind of disability in 2010, making them the largest minority group in the nation, as published by the U.S. Census Bureau 2011.5
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2011, the percentage of adults 18 years and over who were current drinkers totaled 51.5 percent of the population; the number of annual alcohol-related liver disease deaths totaled 15,990; and the number of alcohol-induced deaths totaled 25,694.6
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau, The AFCARS Report: “Preliminary FY 2011 Estimates as of July 2012,” reports that approximately 400,540 children are in foster care.7
- The 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 22.5 million Americans, ages 12 or older (8.7 percent of population), had used illicit drugs in 2011. The survey also reports 6.1 million Americans abused a psychotherapeutic medication and 18.1 million Americans were current users of marijuana.8
- In 2011, 329,797 babies were born to women aged 15–19 years, for a live birth rate of 31.3 per 1,000 women in this age group.9
- In 2008, 1,212,400 induced abortions were performed in America.10
- Life-Way Research conducted a study on Christian discipleship and reported that 80 percent of those who attend church one or more times a month believe they have a personal responsibility to share their faith, but 61 percent had not told another person how to become a Christian in the past 6 months.11
- The USA Today published an article written by Cathy Lynn Grossman on October 9, 2012, headlined: “The Emerging Social, Political Force: ‘Nones’.” According to Grossman, these individuals are atheists, agnostics, and those who believe nothing in particular. The “Nones” are the second largest religious group in the nation at 19.6 percent and growing.12
These statistics clearly communicate that America is in crisis because of the abundant challenges it faces. I am convinced that the only solution is Jesus Christ through His church. The Church is poised like never before to be the key rescuer to redeem our great nation — that is if the church will be the Church.
As we can attest, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people” (Proverbs 14:34). The righteousness of the Church is the answer to an oppressed people. Jesus’ prayer of unity on behalf of the Church has become my focal point, and I am more committed than ever to see it fulfilled.
The challenges we face in America are going to require the services of every Christian becoming unified in the war against sin. We must clothe ourselves with the garment of love and reach out to the lost in every people group by showing grace and being Good Samaritans — that none perish. When we mobilize as one, with each member doing his or her part, nothing can stop us.
The Church is the property of Jesus Christ, and He has grown it with quality, gifted people: the laborers added by God to work in the fields, and the gifted equippers given by Christ to His church to train the workers to build the Church through reconciliation. God reconciled the world unto himself through Jesus Christ. He commissioned the Church to go into the world and share the good news that Jesus has provided the way for them to be redeemed and restored.
Mobilizing the Saints
What does a mobilized local church look like? A mobilized church can only exist when it allows the Holy Spirit to lead, and God alone gets the glory. It is a church unafraid to strategically network and collaborate with other religious and nonreligious organizations, as well as federal, state, and local governments, to take advantage of the many resources essential to liberate the oppressed and hurting. We must utilize every opportunity to plant and water the seeds of God’s love in everyone’s life, and there is no better chance to do this than when one’s quality of life is diminished. The only response is to minister with compassion to alleviate the need.
We must believe that every church leader will purposefully take to heart Ephesians 4:11–16 by implementing the fivefold office or ministry gifts given to equip God’s people to do the work of ministry. These verses communicate the necessity of diversity in training the church to be effective and efficient in fulfilling its ministry. Every church should identify ministry potentials in its community and strategically plan to address them.
We must realize that these are our communities, and God has given them to us. Go take back what the devil has stolen. Prepare your army for battle, feed the hungry, and help the underprivileged and disadvantaged. Visit the prisons, jails, and detention centers — they are yours. Get involved with merchants, support police and fire personnel. Work alongside school boards, principals, and teachers to increase opportunities for learning. Develop alternatives to abortions rather than simply castigate. Reach out to gays and lesbians with compassion by walking them through their challenges. Meet with gang leaders and embrace them with compassion. This is God’s plan, and it is attainable by equipping and training saints who have compassion for ministering to unique people groups.
Equipping is as simple as identifying those whom God has gifted and who have proven ministries serving unique people. We equip pastors when experienced pastors mentor and/or coach younger or challenged pastors, but we must also shift our focus to people in our pews by coming alongside them and equipping them to serve others. They are in our pews waiting for us to call them to duty.
I am convinced that the next great revival in America will not take place until every saint is sharing Jesus through servanthood. We would then see evangelism and discipleship as an integrated divine endeavor as we train every believer to share the good news of Jesus and disciple those who believe. We can invite equippers who have experience in reaching unique people groups, and the least of these, to come alongside believers to equip them with the practical applications essential to reaching these groups. Forget the titles; get everyone involved.
We must reach people everywhere — in nursing homes, hospitals, college campuses, and motor clubs; the homeless, abused, victims of human trafficking, victims of dysfunctional families; those in foster care, those in failed marriages, those caught in homosexuality, those abusing drugs and/or alcohol, and those feeling isolated and alone because they have had an abortion. The orphans need families who will adopt and love them, and the widows and seniors need to know they are not forgotten. Rich or poor — those who are perishing need Jesus. The answer lies in our gifted frontline warriors known as missionaries, chaplains, and volunteers who stand ready to partner with pastors and leadership to assist in mobilizing the army of saints to do the work of the ministry.
We must work together in developing a strategy that none perish. We must believe that mobilizing the body of Christ into the harvest is possible by serving others where they are. By intentionally planting seeds and watering them together, knowing that God will give the increase, we can rejoice together.
God’s Vision of the Mobilized Church
In Joshua 6, God gave Joshua a plan to conquer the fortified Jericho (just like our communities occupied with social ills). God instructed Joshua on every detail of the plan, which included mobilizing all of the Israelites (the Church). Essential to the plan was God’s spoken word to Joshua, “Then the Lord said to Joshua [a Christian leader], ‘See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men’ ” (verse 2). God informed Joshua the battle was already won if he would just obey.
What awesome assurance it is to know that God has already delivered our communities into our hands. The only thing required of us is to mobilize the saints to break down the fortified walls of darkness around our city that are oppressing God’s people. The walls are not the focus point, however, but the oppressed and needy people behind the walls who need our help. When we deploy an army of saints to rescue the perishing and hurting, God will fulfill His promise and bring down those walls of separation.
God again shows His desire for the mobilized church in Luke 10 when Jesus sent 72 saints to go as laborers because the harvest was plentiful. Their assignment was to connect with hurting and needy people (like those in our communities) and become the healing presence of God. Evangelism and discipleship are easy when we equip the saints to reach out relationally and love others where they are.
Fulfilling the Great Commission
Mobilizing the saints to do the ministry is both challenging and exciting. I recall my first pastorate in the inner city of Plainfield, New Jersey. When God called me, I had no formal pastoral training, but what I did have was the Word of God, the Holy Spirit, prayer, and my military and law enforcement training. The mission statement of Jesus (Luke 4:18), and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19,20) were enough for me. I immediately organized the church into a soul-winning army. The strategy was simple: prepare for war. We began with prayer and fasting, and members stood before the congregation and shared their testimonies of how Jesus had made the difference in their lives. This built confidence because this prepared everyone to evangelize by sharing his or her testimony. As a result, we formed The God Squad Ministry. We became difference makers.
To improve our effectiveness, we needed assistance in equipping the saints to impact our community. We brought in people with experience in tract attacking and telephone evangelism to train those not able to be involved in some of our street ministries. We placed tracts everywhere we wanted to make a difference: the marketplace, the workplace, and the neighborhood.
In my second pastorate, we expanded our reach to prisons, nursing homes, hospitals, and college campuses through prayer walks and feeding and clothing drives. We developed 22 ministries in the church led by individuals who had the passion to start them. When I saw a need in the community, we pursued a person to lead it. This brought excitement and energy.
What was crucial, however, was finding equippers like Ingrid Johnson, a U.S. Missions hospital chaplain, who trained those interested in hospital and nursing home ministry. Her training resulted in our forming two nursing home teams and a hospital visitation team that impacted our city. I was actively involved with the principals of local schools. As a result, we had many opportunities to be involved. I became friends with the chief of police. When his father died, he requested that I officiate the funeral. I later became the police chaplain, counseling and offering advice in challenging circumstances.
On July 4, our church honored our city officials at a service. This endeavor was fruitful as our presence in the city grew. Playing a role in the health of our city created many opportunities to share the love of Jesus. Because of our committed, active presence in our city, I was invited by the city administrator to serve on the board to select the new chief of police.
When we allow our light to shine in our cities for the lost and hurting, God’s favor will open doors. When we are committed to claim our cities and devote them to God through mobilizing the saints, we will meet needs and witness salvations. Proven ministry has convinced me that, if we are serious about the return of Jesus, we must mobilize the saints. We need every saint on the battlefield. We can and must do it together.
1. Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.
2. United States Census Bureau U.S. & World Population Clocks. [http://www.census.gov/main/www/popclock.html], Accessed 25 January 2013.
“The World Population and the Top Ten𠊌ountries With the Highest Population.” [http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats8.htm], Accessed 25 January 2013.
3. National Coalition for the Homelessness. “How Many People Experience Homelessness?”[http://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/How_Many.html], Accessed 25 January 2013.
4. Bureau of Justice Standards. “Correctional Populations in the United States, 2011.” By Lauren E. Glaze and Erika Parks. [http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=4537], Accessed 25 January 2013.
5. United States Census Bureau. U.S. Department of Commerce. Economics and Statistics Administration. “Americans With Disabilities: 2010.” (July 2012). By Matthew W. Brault. [http://www.census.gov/prod/2012pubs/p70-131.pdf], Accessed 25 January 2013.
6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Alcohol Use.” [http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/alcohol.htm], Accessed 25 January 2013.
7. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The AFCARS Report. “Preliminary FY 2011 Estimates as of July 2012. No. 19.” [http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/afcarsreport19.pdf], Accessed 25 January 2013.
8. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Results From the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings,” Section 2. Illicit Drug Use. [http://www.samhsa.gov/data/NSDUH/2k11Results/NSDUHresults2011.htm#Ch2], Accessed 25 January 2013.
9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “About Teen Pregnancy: Teen Pregnancy in the United States.” [http://www.cdc.gov/teenpregnancy/aboutteenpreg.htm], Accessed 25 January 2013.
10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Vital Statistics Reports Vol. 60, No. 7. (June 20, 2012). “Estimated Pregnancy Rates and Rates of Pregnancy Outcomes for the United States, 1990–2008. National Vital Statistics Reports.” [http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr60/nvsr60_07.pdf], Accessed 25 January 2013.
11. Wilke, Jon D., “Churchgoers Believe in Sharing Faith, Most Never Do.” [http://www.lifeway.com/ArticleView?storeId=10054&catalogId=10001&langId=-1&article=research-survey-sharing-christ-2012], Accessed 25 January 2013.
12. Grossman, Cathy Lynn, “The Emerging Social, Political Force: ‘Nones’.” [http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2012/10/09/nones-religion-pew-study/1618607/], Accessed 25 January 2013.