Lots of people who visit Central Dallas Ministries ask us, even after a two-hour tour, "So, where does the ministry take place?"
Or, "How do you work the ministry into your programs?"
By that they mean where and how does "the call to conversion" or the invitation to "accept Jesus" come into play in what we do.
We are a faith-based organization. So, I try to explain that we consider everything we do to be "the ministry part."
Whether it is providing food, housing assistance, legal counsel, medical and dental services, pharmacy benefits, after-school programs, employment training, technology education, community organizing and leadership development, counseling services or the activities of the Central Dallas Church: it is all "the ministry part."
Many church people believe that the most important thing, for many the only thing, is to get to "the eternal salvation" issue as quickly as possible.
"How do you witness to Christ?" is another way the question is often put to us.
Often I will try to explain our approach by quoting Saint Francis of Assisi, who once said, "Preach the gospel at all times. Use words only when necessary."
The fact is, we tend to approach our neighbors as the embodiment of the Jesus whom we follow. We take Jesus seriously when he said that whatever we do with and among "the poor," we actually are doing with and to him.
We believe that we meet him in our encounters with the hurting, the excluded, the prisoners, the homeless, the sick, the hungry and the immigrant stranger.
Why would we be too concerned about asking these friends of ours if they believe in Jesus when it is clear to us that they bring him to us?
Yesterday, Dan Hopkins (my good buddy and board member of the Central Dallas Community Development Corporation) and I were running out at White Rock Lake early in the morning. As we cut through a wooded area, a man emerged from the trees. He obviously "lived" among the trees.
We greeted him and stopped to take a breather as we visited with him.
He really wanted to talk.
So, we spent a few minutes hearing his story. In the course of our conversation we explained to him that we had some new apartments to offer folks who had no place to call "home." I gave him our contact information, and he said he would call.
As we finished our run, Dan said, "I've noticed that you never 'hammer' people with the Jesus speech. You don't lead with 'Do you believe in Jesus?'"
Reflecting on his comment as we continued our run, it hit me, in spite of my oxygen deprivation, that the most important question is not, "Does John believe in Jesus?"
The real question is, "Does Larry believe in Jesus?"
Answered correctly, that question gets us much further down the road to the kind of world we really want to build. Because if I do believe in Jesus and if I take him at his word, I will never pass by a guy like John, nor will I dismiss people from my life who are broken or in need or strangers or marginalized or different than I.
"Larry, do you believe in Jesus?"
Yep, that's the right question.
As I think about my brief meeting with John, that was exactly the question he was asking me.
Oh, he didn't put it that way in what he said. But, it was written all over his face and his life circumstance. It was as if in his story and presence, Jesus emerged from the woods at the lake to ask me where I was really headed with my life.
Oh, and just for the record, John called me yesterday morning. We're working on a housing plan, among other things.