Christians say “I love the poor.” I say: “What are their names?”

I recently finished our spring classes at Central City Church.

The class I lead was an introduction to local missions. It ran alongside a class that is an introduction to small groups: local missions and intentional relationships, two of our three core values.

I haven’t had much success with classes, but after a little encouragement from my friend Jack, I thought I’d try my hand at one again.

This was easily the most important class I’ve ever done. 

No. It was easily some of the most important conversations I’ve ever had.

I’ve been trying, this whole time, to blog about the experience… but I’m not really sure how to explain it. I’m not sure how to put it into words… and let’s be honest, that’s strange for me. The truth is, you just need to come experience the class for yourself. 

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So let me tell you some of the highlights.

The class had one focus: how to help well-intentioned Christians better love those in the margins. After spending a lot of time listening to our neighbors (we live in the Bottoms) and having spend a lot of time listening to our friends (we tend to hang out with middle-class to upper-class “do gooders”), we realized there was a need to better understand how to build relationships with the poor. 

There are already plenty of relief services available. There are already great programs providing food, clothes, transportation, and shelter. What is really needed is people who are willing to walk alongside the marginalized, in the context of a relationship, so that we can both grow together. So that is the goal we started with: how can we move into more authentic relationship with the poor. How can we love people, not from a distance, but as their friend. 

From there, we tried to flip the script every chance we got.

First, instead of bringing in experts to speak on homelessness, violence, abuse, drug addiction, and poverty, we decided to only invite guest speakers who experienced these things. We would allow them to be the experts of their own experience. This was a risky move, but by a miracle of God, every single speaker came in, shared their story, answered questions, and did an amazing job. Each one gave me a better picture of what it means to struggle in margins. I walked away with a greater sense of compassion and love. I’ve been to too many events focused on one of these issues, only to listen to an “expert” talk on these topics, never once allowing the people who’ve experienced this side of life share their story. There’s a lot of reasons for this (and not all are bad), and we talk through some of that in this class.

Second, instead of hosting a community dinner at the end of the class, we hosted a reverse community dinner. We heard that one of our friends who lives outside used to be an assistant, to the assistant to a chef at some restaurant. So we asked him if he would not only share his story and answer questions about homelessness, but organize, plan, and prepare our final community meal (and of course, we covered the cost of the supplies and paid him for his time). He did. It was awesome. Our class, and a few neighbors, got to sit at his table for dinner.

Finally, we leaned into the teachings of Jesus. We looked at how Jesus was willing to lower himself, and invites us to do the same. Each week, we challenged each other to be more like Jesus. The topics we got to cover were all the things I love to talk about. It was so much fun, and always challenging, especially for me. It’s easy for me to preach this stuff, but it’s super hard to live it out. 

More than once, I came home and would say to Allyssa: “I think this is what I was created for.”

The class finished on Sunday, and we asked the 15 participants for input. So far we’ve gotten a few surveys back. One person said this: “If local missions is Central City’s mission, then skip a new member class and require everyone to take this series. It is probably the single most powerful tool you can use to change people into Central City neighbors…”

We might just try that.

We hope to offer this class again, either in the summer or in the fall, so if you’re interested, let me know. 

And if you think this is something your church might benefit from, I’m more than willing to share what we created. But more than that, I’d love to come and facilitate the 6-week class at your church if you’re in the Columbus area. Just message me and I can work out a budget that fits for your context.


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