By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent
“Missions used to be about going on mission trips and only highly trained specialized people did long term missions. Now everyone is struggling to see themselves as a missionary and every believer is working to find his or her own people group,” Jeff Elkins, associate pastor of Valley Church said.
Elkins said church members are looking at their people groups as neighbors, members of their community associations, parents and friends at local schools and recreation leagues. Some members are working with the homeless community and others are ministering to prostitutes.
“It’s changed how we view discipleship,” Elkins said. As members go out and minister, they learn together. Each quarter they meet to assess how they’re doing, what tools they need to develop and how they can improve.
“That shift in understanding discipleship has brought radical lifestyle changes. It’s brought new energy and life to the congregation. It has excited everyone about chasing Jesus.”
Elkins stepped into the role as an associate pastor in 2009 bringing with him a background and passion for missions and discipleship. Senior Pastor Rick Cash and Elkins met with key leaders and the group spent 14 weeks discerning what was next for the church. Part of those meetings included each participant sharing their favorite Bible stories. Afterwards, the group would answer the question, “Because of this story, how should we live?”
Elkins said, “One person brought the story of the lost sheep. We asked ‘what did this story tell us about Jesus’ attitude and what can we learn about imitating Jesus in this story? The answer was Jesus’ intense passion for the lost, for those outside of the fold. If Jesus has an intense passion for the lost, I should too.”
That was the impetus for the idea of members finding their people groups and living as missionaries.
“It was a Holy Spirit driven thing,” Elkins said.
“Philosophically, there is no difference,” Rick Cash said. The church has always taught the idea of every believer is a missionary. “Now we’re being intentional. That is the major difference. We’re doing rather than saying, combining word and deed as James says.”
Valley church member Beth Sales agreed with Cash. As a Southern Baptist, being missional was always a focus in the life of a Christian. She said the emphasis affirmed what God was doing in her own life
“When we began being intentional it all came together. Now I have people in my church who are encouraging me and holding me accountable. I’m realizing more and more that missions happens everyday and it’s reaching the people I am in contact with all the time,” Sales said. She lives in a neighborhood of young families and it’s natural for her to connect with new young moms.
Cash said that an additional aspect of intentional ministry is the church as a body being missional. Valley has supported missions through the years and sent teams to help with disaster recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Members have served on mission teams to Puerto Rico and South American countries. Now the church is working with the Baltimore Street Church to be intentional in a local ministry.
Church member Adam Hartry leads a group from Valley that ministers alongside Baltimore Street Church, serving breakfasts to the homeless and poverty stricken community. Hartry sometimes preaches at the church. Last summer, members of Valley Church, partnering with Baltimore Street Church, took homeless people to Ocean City – some for the first time.
The church is a year into the long-term plan and they’re already seeing growth with over 20 new members and several confessions of faith.
“We get locked into life and routine and think of church as a series of programs. We forget that we’re supposed to be living on mission,” Elkins said.
For more information about Valley Church visit their website: www.valleybaptistchurch.org.