Preparing the ground for fruitful ministry…
By Hope Mayes
Pastor Chris Gray and Encounter Church in Sedalia, Missouri give testimony that when the Body of Christ does more than aspire to effect positive change, but becomes intentional about making a long-lasting, far-reaching impact in their community, planted seeds turn into flourishing fruit. However, creating far-reaching impact often happens in a different timeframe than what one might expect.
God used their district superintendent at the time to assist Encounter Church in discovering the direction He was pointing them in over seven years ago. This direction launched the church’s mission and vision to “love, reach, and empower people of all cultures for Jesus Christ.” Mission, vision, and dreams, however, often do not easily or quickly culminate. Every ministry, in its beginning stages, has a season of tilling the ground and planting the seeds before harvesting the fruit of mission and vision.
For Encounter Church, this difficult season of preparing the ground lasted for about three years. This process can sometimes take even longer, but Encounter Church hit the ground running. Pastor Gray pushed forward with determination to reach out and become an asset to the community. As a result of their diligence, fruit developed much faster than was expected.
“This community was ready for something to break loose, so we began to shake things up pretty quick. – Pastor Gray
The ministry of Rural Compassion assisted Encounter Church in facilitating effective change in the community. Through Rural Compassion, they were provided the opportunity to reach their local schools and community through regular distribution of health supplies and food to townspeople, conducting shoe giveaways, and donating resources to the local senior center, police department, fire department, ambulance district, and Citizens Against Spousal Abuse Inc. (CASA). In the last seven years some of these projects have grown to over ten times the original size.
Working with this organization provided an educational experience for Gray. He learned an important lesson for establishing a seat at the table of leadership within the city of Sedalia by regularly attending all the city’s Chamber of Commerce Meetings. This practice produced the opportunity for Gray to represent Christ to the decision-makers in the town. These leaders have since come to know and trust Gray and the local church. Founded on the biblical command to freely give, the hope and light that Encounter Church had freely received was put on display to the people of Sedalia.
As a result of building their foundation on a love like Christ’s that overflows into the community, Encounter Church has experienced uncommon moments in their relationship with Sedalia. Following an outreach to the local school, a thank you note said, “You truly are the hands and feet of Jesus. Thanks again for all that you do for us.” The local fire department also expressed their thankfulness, “We have said it numerous times how very blessed we are by your congregation. I hope you really know how appreciative we are of your generosity.” These are the types of “unheard of” occurrences that pastors do not often see happen in relationships between the church and the average secular community.
Sedalia, Missouri has seen, “unheard of,” and experienced transformation as a result. In the three-year preparation season, this “unheard of” fruit remained obscure. Encounter Church believes any church willing to push forward into their community, despite not seeing results right away, will see a harvest by diligently planting seeds in hope producing fruit for years and years to come.
“Sow the seeds. Only then will God be able to bring about fruit.“
Gray suggested other rural pastors remember; “They do not have time to not invest into the community.” He encourages them to not get so absorbed in the job that they neglect the community around them that needs partnership and assistance. Further, he observed the importance of a rural pastors’ attention to personal spirituality, emotional care and a coaching or mentoring relationship that can help them move forward and strengthen their personal growth.
“Pastors, I want to encourage you; try not to become an island. Instead, wrap yourself around other pastors. And rather than attempting to do everything yourself, hear the ideas; we were made for community.”
Making a difference does not always start off with a bang; sometimes it begins with a vision, and a lot of willingness.
Over the course of the last eight years, Gray’s expectancy and vision has taken root in this rural church and community. God has grown an abundance of flourishing fruit that has yielded blessing for Encounter Church, for the whole of Sedalia, Missouri and beyond.
- What seeds have you sown expecting to bear a harvest?
- What steps could strengthen the relationship between your church and the community?
- What needs do you believe God could help you address?
- Who could partner with you to meet those needs?
- Who could partner with you as a mentor and/or coach?
Click here to read Pastor Chris Gray’s unexpected testimony: What if Your Blessings Come Through Forks?