It’s a ministry that is both crucial to our Christian calling and so broadly defined that it can be hard to recognize at times, but GRBC’s work at Beech Grove Village apartment complex is a very good example of the church’s response to the Gospel call for intentional living in our community.
By “intentional” we mean ordering the events and activities of your life, even where you live and work, in a purposeful way so as to be an ambassador for Jesus Christ.
Pastors Toby, Steve and Chad were interested in the church being more involved in this kind of work and were contacted by an organization that focuses on improving social conditions in such facilities.
After looking for an ideal and willing church member to take the big step of moving into the complex first, they found Kathleen Tennant, who made the move at the end of 2013.
Here’s where the ministry can be difficult to describe for people accustomed to a full-time, vocational ministry model.
Kathleen didn’t quit her day job with The Saturday Evening Post. She didn’t leave GRBC and start attending somewhere else. She didn’t start a big “program” per se. Instead she just began living as a New Testament Christian in the midst of the hundreds of people at Beech Grove Village.
“In the day-to-day, nitty-gritty of it all we probably had more losses than wins at the beginning of it all,” Kathleen recalls. “We moved in and put out a prayer box in the office. I got to know some of my neighbors through that. I would go over and say ‘Hey you filled out a thing saying your sister had cancer, can I come in and pray for you about that?’ That’s how I got to know a lot more people, compared to any events or anything. Even welcome visits, sometimes I hit it out of the park and sometimes I never saw the person again. I found out quickly that everyone likes prayer. It seems like any religion, any belief, people like prayer. If you offer a prayer for someone, even if they are an atheist, people know it’s a gesture of kindness. “
Some of the relationships have matured over time as people realize Kathleen is there for the long haul. Trust improves over time as residents realize she is truly investing her life at the complex, rather than just fulfilling some ministry program obligation.
While there is a ladies bible study every week, most of what goes on in the way of ministry is just from being there and living among the residents.
“A lot of it is just because I’m in the community,” she said. “I see them out during the day and for the girls and ladies who have said they believe, I’ll ask what they are reading and how it applies to their lives. One girl came to me and told me she and her grandma (who she lives with) struggle to get along. So we just did some basic discipleship and counseling about what the Bible says. I’ll ask if she’s thought of ways to bless her grandmother and how can I help her to do that.”
One key demographic to note regarding the complex: 75 percent of the 304 units have no adult men living (permanently) in them, but at least 60 percent do have women and children.”
Seeing the need for men to be more closely involved with the effort, Kathleen challenged some friends during the church’s mission trip to Guatemala. At first they declined the idea but in October of 2014, group of young men from GRBC took on the challenge from Kathleen and also Pastor Chad to make a difference, moving in to the complex. They were Joe Matkins, Kiel Pugh, Noah Colbert and Jeremy Cutshall. Jeremy has since moved out and has been replaced by Kiel’s brother Zac.
So now this group of 20-something men are also striving to make a difference in the community. Additionally, a bible study taught by Willie Jones has been drawing six to 10 men once a week, which makes it almost as well-attended as the ladies study led by Kathleen.
The men are coming around a bit more slowly, but that is often the nature of relationship-building.
“One of the guys comes over about every other day to talk for a while,” Kiel said. “Building relationships takes a lot of time.”
The bible study attendees range in age from 15 to at least 60. A lot of the study has to do with re-education for people who have had some sort of religious exposure. But others are truly starting from ground zero when it comes to the Gospel. Relationship struggles, along with financial and health struggles, are commonplace.
Chad and Kathleen have been encouraging other people from the church to get involved in helping build community. Having some couples move in would be a big help, she noted. The future of the effort could begin to look more and more like a church plant, as the residents might be more comfortable with that than going to a more established and culturally distinct church, even if it is just down the road.
Pastor Chad was pointed as he talked about the future of the outreach at Beech Grove Village, mentioned people believing on Christ, discipleship of people directly involved in the ministry, multiplication of those involved in the ministry and a greater church-wide spiritual investment in and compassion toward the community, as well as to church members’ own communities.
“I realize that the whole church cannot be hands-on in the work at BGV all of the time, nor would that be a good idea. However, we are always looking for new ways to involve individuals in this ministry to reach a different set of residents that we have not yet engaged. For example, we’ve had some ladies from the church lead cooking and craft classes,” he said.
“As we ask the whole church to be involved in ministries like the block party and VBS, I do want them to come away with a greater awareness of what is taking place, get to know a few individuals for whom they can specifically pray, and to think about how they should and can begin to develop such relationships with their own neighbors. My prayer for our church in relationship to BGV is that every member would adopt the mindset that God has so placed us in our contexts for the very purpose of bringing the gospel to those communities, that we would take our commission from Christ seriously to be His ambassadors for His glory. “