Over the next few weeks, we are spotlighting different ministries at Brook Hills to inform as well as to celebrate how God is working within our faith family. Click here for our post on Preschool Ministry, here for the one on our Worship Team, and here for the one on Children's Ministry.
At Brook Hills, we often hear so much about global missions - which is wonderful, but for this week's Q&A, I sat down with our Local Missions Pastor Keith Stanley and with Stephanie Davis to learn more about how our church is involved in serving across the Birmingham area - how we're going local.
BH Women: Provide a big picture of what Local Missions looks like at Brook Hills.
Keith: Our goal is to equip and empower Brook Hills members to intentionally make disciples in the city among the least reached and most impoverished. We all have opportunities in our normal rhythms to make disciples, but there is a whole world who needs to the church to come to them. We have to be mobile in order to reach the most needed areas of this city.
At Brook Hills, we specifically focus on four areas of ministry in Local Missions because these four groups represent the least reached in our city.
- Internationals - There are over 40,000 internationals in Jefferson and Shelby County, many of whom are from unreached people groups.
- Urban Children, many of whom are isolated from the gospel.
- Urban Adults - To reach this demographic, we primarily partner with WorkFaith Birmingham, but our church members also serve with transitional ministries, prison ministries, and ministries such as Brother Bryan.
- Foster Care - With this, we both encourage families to be foster parents as well as to WRAP foster families.
BH Women: So what are we doing as a church to reach these four groups of people?
Keith: Well, people in poverty are isolated from the church, both because of fear but also because of location. Or while there are churches in the inner city, they are not set up to meet all the needs of the people who live around them. For example, Marks Village (a government housing project in the Gate City part of town) has 500 families living there who all have needs - one church cannot meet those needs or reach these families by itself. So we partner with urban churches.
For the kids at Marks Village, we host a weekly Bible Club that currently has over eighty kids. We promote relational discipleship and have a 1:3 or a 1:4 ratio of adults to kids in order to allow this to happen more easily.
We also participate in Breakfast Club at Oliver Elementary, which is on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:00am. Again, it's one adult who meets with three kids who the school says are struggling academically and emotionally, and these adults have an opportunity to encourage and mentor students. We also do Discovery Clubs at Oliver, and our church hosts the Ready Day One project at Oliver in order to address physical needs with those students. We want to holistically minister to these urban kids - emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
For urban adults, we partner with Serving You Ministries, which is out of North Park Baptist Church in Trussville. They help address food, utilities, as well as some clothing needs and have two locations - one at North Park and one at Brook Highland Community Church. We send people from Brook Hills to serve there as well.
We also have church members who serve outside of these four areas we've identified. We encourage our church to find where God is calling you to serve and to make disciples in this city.
BH Women: You've mentioned WorkFaith Birmingham, which we've heard about a couple of times from the platform on Sundays. Can you explain more about this ministry?
Keith: First of all, understand that WorkFaith is a Brook Hills partner, not a Brook Hills ministry. I think there's been some confusion about this.
At this point, 87% of WorkFaith Birmingham graduates have obtained employment, but we've discovered that they need more support after getting a job. In light of this, we are implementing monthly meetings for our graduates (the next one is Thursday, April 16, at 6:30pm at New Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church).
For this, we need people to serve as a table host at this meetings. This involves leading the table talk for the night - helping graduates network with each other, debriefing spiritual growth as well as job challenges ("What's one thing you can do to grow in this area this week?"), and praying together. At these monthly meetings, we'll also highlight our core ethics and values and address topics related to challenges they're facing. We've also realized that we're dealing with life needs. For example, food resources will be the focus of the April 16 meeting, and we will help them connect to support ministries and grow in life skills.
From March-December in 2014, we had nine workshops with sixty-seven graduates, and as of today, fifty-eight of them have a job. WorkFaith doesn't give anyone a job, but we empower them with skills to get and keep a job. We're trying to help our WorkFaith students move beyond entitlement and develop a biblical worldview of life, work, and ethics. We're teaching them about God's design for work, and we're addressing the heresy of the prosperity gospel.
We have twelve core competencies that we teach in the curriculum we use, and we send our graduates job leads and coach them on how to stand out in a job interview and how to identify and explain what they can bring to a company. We also do mock interviews and teach them how to research companies.
BH Women: If a small group or a Brook Hills member wanted to start serving locally, what would they need to do as a first step?
Stephanie: First, look at what the people in the small group are passionate about, and identify the giftings of the people in the group. We have so many opportunities available, so it's helpful to start with the person or the group's passions and gifts in order to know where to serve.
An interest in working with children, for example, would narrow things down. If I can know something like this, I'll list some options, tell you what the needs are, and what available serving opportunities are. You can take these opportunities back to your small group and pray through where God might be leading you.
If you still don't know, just try one of them. We do immersion opportunities like the Fall Festival where you can serve for a day and see what it's like before committing to serve there on a regular basis. These immersion opportunities also help get rid of preconceived notions about the people in that area.
Keith: In other words, just try it. We also send out a weekly email where we highlight needs of our ministry partners as well as opportunities to serve. If you want to be added to this email list, contact Stephanie at email@example.com
Stephanie: We usually send this out on Tuesdays, but you can also check our website on the "Get Started" tab. There we'll list immersion opportunities, immediate opportunities, and the info from our e-blast.
Keith: We also highlight equipping opportunities on our weekly e-blast.
Stephanie: I often encourage people just to come to our Working with Urban Children workshop. If you have no idea where to serve, come to one of these. You can meet folks who are already serving with urban children and get a picture of what it involves.
BH Women: Many people at Brook Hills don't really know the history of Local Missions at our church and how the Radical Experiment helped shape what this ministry looks like here. Can you fill us in?
Keith: We had a Community Outreach program even when I came here in 2004. As people came back from Global serving opportunities, we wanted them to have a way to plug in here in our city.
With Radical, David Platt challenges us to pray about an area with spiritual and physical poverty where we could make a long-term impact. Globally, this was India, and locally, we identified the East Lake and Gate City area.
We drove around the city praying, and back then, we had about 100 people serving with Lovelady. We were asking where were the deepest needs in our city, and we identified Marks Village. The needs were and are immense. 60% of kids are raised by a grandparent, and 80% of these families have no male father figures in the home. The average income per year was $6200, which was the lowest income of all the public housing communities in Birmingham. And we sensed that God was calling us to make a difference there.
Ben DeLoach, who was on our staff at that time, was from East Lake and sensed God leading him to plant a church there - to move to that area and make a difference there. God opened up partnerships - some more successful than others, and through it all, we've learned about our own expectations and how to serve the local churches in those areas.
Radical called us to ask the question: how can we best and most intentionally make disciples among the least reached and most impoverished, both locally and globally?
Stephanie: It's important to note that people both within and outside of Brook Hills were addressing needs in our community, but nothing was really present in Marks Village. No one was addressing the generational poverty there.
Keith: There's lots of great relief work in this city, but not a lot of ministries are focusing on restoration. This is why relational disciple-making is so important. People can't move out of their economic or their spiritual situations without someone walking alongside them.
We try to restore people - families - to God, to His plan for their life, and empower them to live it. We are not trying to mold them into some sort of Brook Hills image. We want to empower them to walk with God themselves and to understand His plan for them. We counsel with resources and provide opportunities for them to get out of poverty.
It's relational disciple-making. When you don't have Christ-followers investing, they reach a plateau spiritually. We have all benefitted from relationships, from where people have invested in us, and we want to provide these relationships for internationals, urban children, urban adults, and foster kids in Birmingham.
BH Women: Do y'all have any recommended reading for folks who want to serve with any of these four groups of people?
Stephanie: Click here to see a list of books, studies, and sermons that we recommend for anyone who wants to serve with the spiritually and materially impoverished.
BH Women: Two Sundays ago (March 22), Ready Day One was emphasized in the Sunday Worship Gatherings. Give us more information on what this and how our church can get involved.
Keith: Ready Day One provides urban children with the resources they need to start school, and for us, it's a way to display the gospel, to connect local churches to needy, unchurched families, and to love them in Jesus' name.
Prior to Ready Day One, more than 33% of students in Birmingham City Schools were not showing up until after Labor Day. Since the start of Ready Day One, this number has dropped to 5%.
At Brook Hills, we were already focused on reaching out to the families at Marks Village, and Oliver Elementary is where these kids go to school. So we focus on the Ready Day One project at Oliver Elementary.
All of this came about when Frank Woodson (from Mission Alabama) and I traveled to Dallas a couple of years ago, and Frank told me of a conversation he'd had with Dr. Witherspoon. The school superintendent told Frank of how the inner city kids were starting a month later than suburban schools, that it takes that long to get students there because school uniforms are required. These kids have to wait until their families' Social Security checks come in at the first of the month to buy the rest of what's needed to start school, and Dr. Witherspoon asked if there was any way that the local churches could help.
Ready Day One provides three school uniforms, a belt, a jacket, a backpack, shoes, socks, and school supplies for all children who live in public housing in Jefferson County and for all DHR kids. There are 460 kids at Oliver, and it costs about $100 per child to provide all that's listed above. So our goal is to raise $45,000.
Last year, our faith family provided uniforms and school supplies for more than 450 children in the Gate City area.
Stephanie: If people want to give online to Ready Day One, they can do so at this site. We'll also have serving days this summer as we prepare items for distribution and as we give them out to the families. We'll have more information about this on our website and in our weekly e-news starting this summer.
BH Women: Is there anything else that you would like our faith family to know about Local Missions at Brook Hills?
Keith: We are joining God in what He's already doing in this city. We're not Saviors coming in on a white horse. But we are called to serve, to join God, and to go in humility.
Stephanie: And we don't always know how to best do this, so we learn - often through trial and error.
Keith: As with Global, there are also short-term, mid-term, and long-term needs in Local Missions, and obviously, the greatest impact is had when there's weekly involvement with people. Also, we think of projects in terms of people and ask the questions, "How does this 'event' support relational disciple-making? How does it allow us to relay the gospel?"