Almost twenty years ago as a young newlywed, when I was young and stupid, I accepted a “free” vacation to a Florida resort with a 2-night cruise to the Bahamas. In exchange, all I had to do was listen to a condominium sales-pitch. Thankfully, I had my wife with me, who was more than willing to put the hammer down on the salesperson, who tried every guilt-wringing trick in the book. I wondered, “if this place is such a great, indispensable thing that I don’t have, then why do they have to try to trick me and pressure me to get me to buy it?”
While time has gone by, and I have hopefully become wiser, this particular event has probably colored my thinking whenever someone offers something “free” to me.
I had a discussion earlier this week about how one of the challenges for the church is how to become externally-focused in its local community. The world is suspicious that the church is only willing to help out in exchange for an advertising platform. In a way, it seems that communities are gunshy about involving the church in their needs because their fear is that the only reason the church serves is so that it can get the proverbial high-pressure sales pitch in exchange for its service. It is as if they’re asking, “if this is such a great, indispensable thing that I don’t have, then why do they have to try to trick me and pressure me to get me to buy it?”
One example I had of a church being effective in their community was in Longmont, Colorado, where one church went to the local community leaders and said “what needs to you have that we can meet?” While the community was initially skeptical, over time, this church has become much more integral to the world around it in a way that people can look at it and see that what Jesus is offering through it is not a sales pitch.
One example of “being salt and light” to its community occurred a few years ago when, due to a budget shortfall, the local school district had problems funding basic custodial services. When it heard of this need, the church volunteered to clean the schools at night. They saw a need and met it, without asking for something in return. People knew where the church was – and the school board and many educators were verbally grateful for their service. There was no need for a ‘tract throw-down’, their service spoke of who they were working for and gained credibility for Him in that community. (For more examples of this, check out The Externally Focused Church by Rick Rusaw)
Today, I saw another example of this in the morning paper:
Police recruit pastors
Ministers will try to reduce tensions at the scenes of crimes, and maybe help solve some
Indianapolis police want local pastors to help calm volatile crime scenes.
So they have formed a group that enlists ministers to aid in keeping the peace and ultimately reducing crime in their neighborhoods.
More than a dozen ministers have joined the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department’s Community Clergy program, an effort police hope also will improve relations between police and the public.
Police hope to eventually have a minister on call in every district. All participants must clear a background check and complete a training class to be officially accepted into the program, which will be formally launched this month.
“It allows both the faith community and law enforcement to work together,” said the Rev. Charles Harrison, pastor of Barnes United Methodist Church on the Near Northside and a program participant. “I think it is going to help in solving these homicides and to help build a good relationship between the Police Department and the community.”
Deputy Chief Patricia Holman said the ministers will serve as liaisons between police and the community at the scenes of homicides, police-action shootings or any other potential crisis situation.
“They have a connection to the neighborhood,” said Holman, who also serves as an assistant pastor at Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Indianapolis. “They are the very people that people are looking to for answers.”
The department has not identified all participants because they had not yet been notified that they had cleared background checks and were officially accepted, said IMPD Lt. Jeff Duhamell.
Olgen Williams, executive director of the Christamore House Family and Community Center on the Westside and a program participant, said the initiative will work because the clergy will bring relief to situations through spirituality as a complement to law enforcement.
“It’s a good idea. It’s a collaboration trying to make the community safe, and I think we need it more than ever,” Williams said.
The response by local ministers to defuse a heated confrontation between officers and citizens after the shooting of a popular Near-Northside barber in October sealed the deal for IMPD to create the program.
While the idea for Community Clergy was still in its infancy, Harrison and other ministers stepped in to help calm tensions after the Oct. 14 shooting of Otis Brown Sr., police said.
More than 100 people — including Harrison — gathered outside The New Doo Barber Shop, 3100 block of North Clifton Street, in the hours after Brown was gunned down in the basement of his business.
Their help provided a clear example that ministers can offer police valuable assistance, Holman said.
“The (Community Clergy) program was already in motion, but I think it did certainly confirm the thought that this would be a fantastic idea,” said Holman. “It’s good to have people in key positions in your neighborhoods that you can trust and get advice from.”
Brown, 46, was a beloved businessman in his neighborhood. Many citizens who came to the homicide scene were angry that he had been killed during an apparent robbery, Harrison said. Officers tried to move people away from the crime scene, and some in the crowd protested, Harrison said.
“There was so much distrust and anger out there,” Harrison said. “Some in the community were taking it out on police.”
The officers needed to clear the area so detectives could search for clues and find Brown’s killers, Harrison said, but the crowd didn’t see it that way.
“When the police tried to move the crowd back, they felt the police were trying to hide something,” Harrison said. “They resisted.”
Harrison said he and other neighborhood ministers intervened and helped calm the tensions. While police worked on the scene, the ministers helped bring Brown’s family members to a separate area and counseled them.
“We helped calm them down and created an atmosphere of peace,” Harrison said.
Police said the ministers would have come in handy at a separate, unrelated crime scene to which officers responded June 7.
IMPD Maj. Bryan Roach said police felt tensions rising after a car chase and what was initially thought to be a police-action shooting that killed Lawrence Primus, 24, on the Near Northside.
Detectives later determined Primus died from a self-inflicted gunshot, but during the investigation, Primus’ family arrived at the scene and angrily blamed officers for the death, Roach said.
Having a pastor there would have helped police defuse the chaotic situation, he said.
And that is not the only benefit IMPD is hoping to achieve. Holman said the ministers might actually help police solve crimes, because people are often afraid to tell police who committed a crime for fear of retribution. Those citizens might be more willing to ask their pastor to pass the information to police, Holman said.
“Citizens want crimes solved but do not often feel comfortable that they can remain anonymous,” Holman said. “It may be that people want me to have that information but are not comfortable coming to me.”
She said police will also seek guidance from pastors on improving their response to crisis situations and how to interact with citizens in ways that avoid unnecessary conflict.
“It has to be a two-way street if it’s going to be successful,” Holman said. “If we’re asking them to step out there, then we have to be willing to step out there with them.”
I realize that some will be critical of programs like this, but I see it as ways in which churches are finally – creatively – looking for ways to engage their culture without selling out. Being relevant without altering the message. Taking the talents given to them and multiplying them for the kingdom, so that the world will know that Our God is God of the Universe…