Servant Thinking

Faith Builders and Servant Thinking

Kirk Lyman-Barner, Director of Covenant Partner Development

July 2006 

Ask, “What can the Fuller Center do for your congregation?”

Millard has often said, “Every house is a sermon of God’s love.” In the FCH Operations Manual Getting Organized document on page 11 in the section on the Faith Builders Committee it reads:

The Fuller Center mission statement says that we are faith driven and Christ centered. The Fuller Center is not a church, but it is a servant of the church, providing opportunities for Christians to demonstrate the gospel.

We are a servant of the church and not a church.  Millard joked with his audience, “I don’t ever want to see Fuller Center Churches!” We are ecumenical in nature and we want to bring together Christians (and non Christians who share our values), people from all walks of life, all working together to build a little piece of God’s heaven here on earth.

Sometimes the lenses through which we see local congregations have us thinking about how much money a church can raise, how many volunteers will show up at the job and has us generally asking, “What can this church do for our local housing program?” Though entrepreneurial from a development perspective, this strikes me as the opposite of “servant thinking.”

Perhaps a more helpful question is, “How can our Fuller Center housing program meet the needs and the mission of the church?”

A development mindset and servant thinking do not need to be mutually exclusive concepts. In fact, a spirit of servant thinking is one of the best development tools your committee can master.

It is true that churches represent the base of our housing movement. The Church is the source of the majority of our donors, volunteers and work teams. Again quoting from the Getting Organized document:

        Churches can provide a wide range of services to the Covenant Partner; from lending their facilities for meetings and events to sponsoring and helping build houses. In turn, the Covenant Partner can provide a vehicle for the church to come together around a common cause and strengthen its fellowship and sense of ministry.

Making Religion Relevant

Your Fuller Center housing ministry changes the lives of church members. Recently, a visitor to our office came up to me and said, “Hey, I know you… my first work camp was at your program in West Virginia.” In visiting with her I found out that this woman who was a young college student at the time changed her career plans because of that experience and has been working full time with our housing ministry since 1997. And this wasn’t the first time I learned about how a volunteer experience helping people in need changed not only the lives of the families whose home was built, but also the career path of the volunteer.

Sometimes you will be able to respond to a whole congregation that is sensing a disconnect from what they are hearing from the pulpit about Jesus calling us to bring Good News to the poor and what they are actually doing, or more accurately, not doing.

The very first church work team I organized in 1988 was the result of a pastor from North Carolina who said, “Kirk, I have just accepted this position at a large Presbyterian Church. We have a youth group that is very good at going on beach trips and ski trips. I would like to get them more missions oriented… Could you find us a house to work on?”

Another pastor called me one time and said, “We just bought our senior pastor a new Lincoln Continental as an anniversary present. And we bought a golf cart so our people don’t have to walk from their cars to the church. Could you help us redirect our attention from ourselves – could we sponsor and build a house for a family in need?”

But other times being a servant is much more subtle and less dramatic in nature. Indeed, according to the Bible ministry comes in the form of water for the thirsty, clothing for the poor, feeding the hungry and visiting the sick, the poor and the widow.  Fuller Center volunteers accomplish acts of servanthood by raising awareness in a Sunday School class; providing volunteer opportunities for retired members or students on spring break and on Saturday mornings. Sometimes being a servant is having the organizational capacity to accept an application from a shut-in or retired member who needs some help from our Greater Blessings repair ministry.   

Don’t neglect small congregations!

If we only pitch our story to large congregations, we overlook the reality that even small churches can build a house. Recently Bishop E.J. Wallace of Good News Ministries in Americus, Georgia came to our office to present a check from his congregation to sponsor a house in Nigeria. He told me, “I’ve got our members to agree to build sponsor a house each year. I grew up living in shacks and I want to help others. It wasn’t a hard sell to our members when I asked them to put the Fuller Center into our missions budget. Many of us have been volunteering for years.” Bishop Wallace also serves on the board of the Americus-Sumter Fuller Center for Housing on the Faith Builders Committee.

The expressions of faith by small congregations can be very powerful. In Cusseta, Georgia following a presentation to a ministerial association in which I spoke about building on faith, a woman stood up to address the audience. Evangelist Willie Mae Threats told the crowd, “We just started our new church and we only have three members, but I do know that God will join us at the worksite.” She handed me a $100.00 bill to help build the first house for a family in need in Cusseta. Six months later at the groundbreaking ceremony I learned that Evangelist’s church had grown to several dozen members. Earlier this month The Fuller Center of Cusseta had a house blessing ceremony celebrating the completion of their first new house.

There is a real hunger for a return to the teachings of the Economics of Jesus during the economic challenges facing our nation. A loan for the poor at no profit and no interest is the exact opposite of what we usually see in the market place. If a family is struggling financially, lenders often charge them as high of interest as legally allowable.

Exodus 22:25 offers another way and this resonates with the people sitting in the pews hoping for answers to their struggles. It also resonated in Kentucky as our Fuller Center for Housing of Louisville launched a campaign to do 1000 Greater Blessings Projects in 1000 Days by 1000 Volunteers. They turned to their church community asking 100 churches to adopt 10 homes. Louisville volunteer Jeff Aicken says, “We believe that the greater blessing comes from giving and donating.”

The opportunity to be blessed through giving is why the homeowners are given the opportunity to pay back the cost of the materials and help another neighbor in need. Servant thinking leads to an invitation to be blessed. If we don’t engage our churches we would be denying them an opportunity to be blessed by giving and donating. Have courage to ask, “Pastor, how can we help your congregation through our Fuller Center housing ministry?” If you do, the blessings will flow.

Help us share your Good News Stories

We are constantly seeking stories to develop more materials for our Faith Builders program and to help our Faith Builder Committees. Send us your stories so we can share them. Organize a small group or book club using Millard’s Building Materials for Life series. And don’t ever stop asking your local churches, “How can we help?” Meeting their needs by inviting them to engage with your Fuller Center housing ministry will be one of the most important development activities in your program.

For more information about our Faith Builders Program contact:

Ryan Iafigliola

Director of Special Programs 

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