The Mission Field Outside Our Doors: We Love All God's Children
By: Sherri Gragg
In the opening moments of his Episcopal Address at the 2017 Conference, Bishop Scott Jones quoted second century Christian philosopher Aristides’ description of early Christians. “they love one another…If they see a stranger, they take him home and are as happy as though he were a real brother…” (The Apology of Aristides) Jones then challenged the conference to hold fast to the example of the early church in the way we love each other and minister to the mission field just outside our doors.
We Love All God’s Children
One of the ways the Bishop is challenging churches across the Texas Conference to put their love in action is through the We Love All God’s Children initiative. Jones urged congregations to love the children in their communities so well that it defines our reputation as a conference.
Rev. Lance Richards, senior pastor of Watershed Church, and the other members of the Core Leadership Team (CLT) knew that to ensure We Love All God’s Children becomes a reality, they would need to spark a grassroots effort throughout the Conference. Their first step in seeding the Bishop’s vision in every church was to host a unique training experience for church leaders this past November.
A Holistic Approach
The CLT asked each District Superintendent to recruit three professionals from his or her district who were on the front-lines of their fields in one of the three target areas for We Love All God’s Children- children’s health, education, and discipleship. Church leaders were then invited to hear from these professionals as speakers, in panel discussions, and in a ministry fair. Participants found the diverse panels eye-opening. “People left with a sense of not only the vastness of the issues,” Richards said, “but also inspired to ask what they can do to impact them.”
We Love All God’s Children is designed as a holistic approach to children’s ministry- body, mind, and soul. Children in East Texas who live in a healthy food desert and lack safe places to run and play are suffering from an epidemic of childhood obesity. Many families also struggle to provide quality healthcare for their children. Richards hopes churches will ask how they can make a difference in these children’s physical well-being.
The conference is also encouraging churches to find creative ways to help children become better readers. Studies have shown that if a child is not reading on level by the time he or she is in the third grade, he or she is far more likely to end up in prison and or suffering from poverty. Congregations are encouraged to go to local schools and ask how they can be of service.
Many children are suffering in spiritual deserts as well. Bishop Jones said of aging UMC congregations, “Too often churches say, ‘we don’t have any children.’ Look around. There are children in your community.”
The We Love All God’s Children initiative hopes that each church will minister in these three areas in a way that is unique to their gifts, resources, and the needs in their communities. “One church might be passionate about childhood obesity. Another might adopt a school or mentor students,” Richards said. “We want to be the first call our local schools make when they are in need.”