Pastoring Your Community: How Positive Community Relations Brings Favor Pastor Scott Porter

Pastoring Your Community: How Positive Community Relations Brings Favor
Pastor Scott Porter

Scott PorterHello, my name is Rev. Scott Porter. I am the Senior Pastor at ABIDING WORD CHURCH in Sterling, Illinois.  Sterling is located about 120 miles west of Chicago, IL, in a rural area.  Our population is approximately 16,000 people.

I graduated from Rhema Bible Training in 1986 and moved back home the next day where I became the Associate, Youth, and Children’s Pastors.  In 1988 I became the pastor of our church. In 1988 our home was a dilapidated 100 year old church building.  Hardly anyone in the town knew our congregation existed, and our community impact was minimal if it existed at all. 

What I want to share with you now is important. It’s a verse of scripture that was, thankfully, drilled into me by the instructors at Rhema Bible Training Center. It is Romans 8:16 “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God…” 

Allow me to share with you some of the things that we, as a church, and I, as a pastor have done in our community.  I have two rules to begin:

Rule #1: Be led by the Spirit of God in everything you do as a pastor.  I believe that goes without saying, but I’ve learned that “assumption is the lowest form of knowledge” so we’ll start there. 

Don’t just do something that sounds good, or because it worked for somebody else. Find out what it is God wants YOU to do, and DO IT!  What is God’s Plans and Purposes for you to PURSUE?  Now, the things that I list may spark something in you to do, or it may not.  If it seems right to you and the Spirit of God, BLESS GOD, GO FOR IT!!  

Rule #2: Don’t be a religious fuddy dud. In your community have a reputation of being visible, available, and a likable person.  There are enough “religious wet blankets” out there.  Be real with people.  Be approachable.  Be a blessing.

We’ve gone after the unchurched.  Transfer growth is okay, but it’s not where it’s at. 30-35% of people in America go to church, why are we fishing out of a 30-35% bathtub, when there is a 65-70% ocean out there? 
Some theologians believe that Jesus and Paul contradicted themselves in certain parts of the Bible.  We know that is not true, but one of the “contradictions” they point to is found in Mark 16:15 “And he (Jesus) said unto them, ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.’”  Jesus said to GO INTO THE WORLD, whereas the apostle Paul wrote in…2 Corinthians 6:17  “Wherefore COME OUT from among them, and BE YE SEPARATE, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you…”

Now wait a minute. Paul said, “come out and be separate.”  And Jesus said, “Go ye into all the world…”  Which is it?  COME OUT OR GO IN?  IT’S BOTH.  It’s easy to rightly divide this word of truth. We are not to go into the world and partake of their lifestyle, but WE ARE to go into the world as SALT & LIGHT to rock our world for Jesus Christ!!  Not one of us will win the whole world, but in Jesus name, I believe we can touch, and bless, and win OUR world. The world in which we live, in our sphere of influence. 

I’m not a carnal Christian, but I’ve seen too many Christians in my life that are so SEPARATIST in their thinking that their local church congregation turns into a “bless me club” that sadly is made up of as Dad Hagin used to say, “us four and no more.” 

For example, several years ago I went golfing with a local United Methodist pastor and he asked me what we do for evangelism.  I told him about the evangelism program that we were working with at that time.  He sighed and told me of his endeavors at the congregation he was leading.  He was discouraged and exasperated.  The last straw for him, he said, was when one of his leaders, a dear lady told him, “Ask unchurched people to come to church?  But pastor, EVERYONE I KNOW GOES TO CHURCH.”  I truly felt bad for him. My question to the church is, “how can you go into the world, if the only place you’re going is into the church?”  

Remember this, Jesus ate and drank with sinners.  A point of clarification before I continue, I’ve never drank alcohol in my life. Not a drop, not a taste, period.  So I want to make that plain, the author of this article is pretty much a “Beaver Cleaver.”  Yet in Matthew 11:19 Jesus said,  “The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.”

I love the Message Translation of Matthew 11:19 “I came feasting and they called me a lush, a friend of the riffraff. Opinion polls don’t count for much, do they? The proof of the pudding is in the eating."

Jesus ate and drank with sinners.  He socialized with heathens, yet he was without sin.  We need to get out of the mentality that says, “everything and/or everyone in your town is the devil,” and as a church, we’re against EVERYTHING.  A story I tell that shows an example of this type of thinking goes like this.  I was born in Dixon, Illinois.  When I was 4 years old we moved 12 miles away from Dixon to Rock Falls, Illinois.  My father, my grandfather, and my uncles had built a brand new house in the country for us.  That first year the landscaping still had to be completed, and the lawn was made up of dirt without a blade of grass.  Now, for 2 little boys, me and my big brother Mark, it was fun.  We had the luxury of 2 large dirt hills to play on.  These hills would be spread out the next year, and grass seed planted.  Another discovery we made living out in the country was gophers.  You know, those furry little critters that dig holes and burrow in your yard?  Now, my father is from the hills of Virginia, and he was pretty good with his .22 rifle, and he would regularly pick off those little varmints with one shot.  Mark and I would watch out the back window and shout to our father, “Daddy, daddy, there’s a gopher out back!!”  Dad would calmly load his gun, open up his bedroom window from the 2nd floor of the split level, and pow!!  Dead gopher.  Now, you may be wondering what in the world this has to do with the devil?  Everything. 

Notice, my father didn’t go hunting for gophers.  He wasn’t dancing around the backyard with rifle in hand looking like Elmer Fudd saying, “Hewo gopher, come out, come out, wherever you are!! Heh-heh-heh….”   He didn’t hunt for gophers, but when the gopher popped it’s head up, bang, my dad dealt with it.  It’s the same with the devil.  The devil is not on my mind 24/7.  I know he and his crowd are around, but they must not influence my thinking.  No, I like to keep a righteousness consciousness, and be about my Heavenly Father’s business.  The light is green, and that means GO!  If I sense a check in my spirit, a “red light” if you will, I stop, but until then, I’m moving ahead.  Now when the devil, pops his head out of a “hole” and tries to interfere in some way, shape, or form, POW!  I take out the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word (Rhema=spoken) of God, and deal with the varmint.  I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t be known as the guy or gal in town that’s always against everything.  Plant your flag in the ground as a person and church that is FOR great stuff. 

I’ve believed God for favor with the people of our area, and God has given it to us. One of the definitions of FAVOUR in the original greek from Strong’s is: FAVOR (GREEK) charis, especially the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life.
The Bible tells us that Jesus had favor with God and man.  Luke 2:52 “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.”

We know that Jesus stands alone in a class by Himself as the 2nd person of the Godhead.  The God man, who became flesh and dwelt among us.  Yet, in terms of physical and mental development, Jesus went through much of the same progression that we all did.  He related to other people, and he was loved by God.  A full human life is not out of balance.  Jesus saw the importance of developing in all areas of life, spirit, soul, and body.  We know that the soulish realm is made up of our mind, will, and emotions.  That includes our social, mental, and emotional faculties.  Being a Christian from Illinois (the land of Lincoln) there is something that I always found strange.  In the movies, in the 20th century, there are two people that were always cast to look and act like zombies: Jesus Christ and Abraham Lincoln……..They walk around in a fog, never looking people in the eye, and looking off into a far distant horizon, as if life on earth was nothing but a huge bother.  First of all, honest old Abe was a great joke teller, and loved to laugh, and Jesus was real, with God and man, so you be real too!  I believe that God will grant you and your church such favor in your community that you will (as the definition states) be a “divine influence upon the heart(s)” of the people of your community. 

The early church was real with people.  Acts 2:47 tells us, “Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”

Our church isn’t a perfect church, but it’s a healthy church.  A healthy church attracts people to Christ. (Like flies to a light). The Jerusalem church’s zeal for worship and brotherly love was contagious. A healthy, loving church will grow in numbers. What are you doing to make your church the kind of place that will attract others to Christ?  An attitude of judgment and condemnation won’t cut it, it only pushes people away.  That doesn’t mean that we condone sin, and compromise a righteous standard.  Yet, God didn’t establish the church to be judge, jury, and executioner in people’s lives.  Our best example is Jesus.  When the woman caught in the act of adultery was brought to Jesus, after her accusers left, He asked, “…Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”  Here’s the Scott Porter translation, “I don’t condemn you either, but stop doing what you’re doing…”  He didn’t verbally lash her, but He also didn’t say, “aw, it’s alright, have fun!”  No, he drew the moral line in the sand, but embraced her in love and forgiveness.   Without compromise, but reaching out in love and acceptance.  I believe that the church should be the most exciting place to be in your town on Sunday, don’t you?
Do you know who Jesus and the early church had FAVOR with?  It wasn’t the religious people or leaders (with a few exceptions like Nicodemus) No, Jesus and the early church had favor with the people.  That is, the community.  The regular folks.  Really, as a church, isn’t that who we’re after, the people?  John Maxwell wrote, “If you don’t have influence, you will NEVER be able to lead others.”  LEADERSHIP IS INFLUENCE. Influencing people to follow God, and you as their pastor.  “The true measure of leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.”  General Colin Powell said, “You have achieved excellence as a leader when people will follow you everywhere if only out of curiosity.” 

One of the first things that our church did after I became the pastor was to join our local Chamber of Commerce.  Most every town has a chamber of commerce, and churches usually get a special rate.  We didn’t ask for the special rate, they offered it.  We have since joined the Rock Falls (just across the river) Chamber of Commerce and will soon join the Dixon Chamber of Commerce.  Dixon is ten miles from Sterling and is the Hometown of President Ronald Reagan.  I have been involved with different committees, served at numerous events, and attended the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce convention in the state capital of Springfield.  Every year at the annual dinner of our Chamber, hundreds of the top business execs, CEOs, and upper management are in attendance. Guess who they ask to say the invocation?  A chamber member.  We were the first church to join the chamber, so a majority of the time, I’ve given the invocation.  It has opened so many doors.  IT’S VISIBILITY & INVESTMENT.  Remember, ministry is spelled, W-O-R-K!!

This is a wonderful time to connect with folks, and network.  It also gives an opportunity to witness in public, the goodness of our God.   It’s ALL relational evangelism! Building trust & confidence with the people of your community.  We have also participated in the annual Chamber Expo at our local mall.  Local businesses set up tables with brochures and information about their organization.  We were the first church to participate, and it afforded us unmatched visibility.  I would work several shifts at this Saturday, Sunday event, and meet scores of people.  We had a number of wonderful families begin attending our church as a result of the Expo. 

Several years ago, we had a businessman’s seminar and invited noted speaker/minister VAN CROUCH.  Van knocked it out of the park with his address, and as a result several local business people checked out our church.  Someone said to me once, “Oh, you are a church full of businessmen?”  No, at the time we had the seminar, we had 2 businessman in our church, now we have a bunch!   

One word of warning when dealing with business people.  Realize that YOU WILL BE TEASED.  You will hear every, “Jesus, God, and Moses went golfing joke..” you’ve ever heard.  You will be put on the spot to see what you are made of.  Here’s my advice:   Don’t be defensive, just let the stereotypes roll off your back.  Be willing to laugh at yourself will help get rid of stereotypes & establishing a good reputation in the community. (President Reagan used self-deprecating humor to his advantage)  Remember that being a pastor, and winning trust in a community is NOT a sprint, it’s a marathon.  I believe it was Pastor John Osteen who once said that one of the reasons Lakewood Church had grown to such a remarkable size under his leadership was, “I outlasted everybody!”  There is something to be said for longevity and stability in pastoral leadership.   

For the last 12 years, in the spring, I have taught a 7th grade class at our local Middle School through the Junior Achievement organization.  It’s a structured curriculum led by local business volunteers, that teaches young people about your personal business experience, saving money, investing money, and giving money.  It has a segment, depending on the curriculum, on your personal values.  The first time I meet the new class every year, I walk up to each student, look them in the eye, give them a firm handshake, introduce myself, and hand them a business card.  That first class is always interesting.  Many of the children aren’t used to shaking hands, or speaking to an adult on an equal basis.  By the last class 6-8 weeks later, each student comes forward for a certificate of completion.  I can say without fear of contradiction, each student is more confident, looks me in the eye, shakes my hand firmly, and says thank you.  It’s a remarkable social transformation.  The greatest part is that I’m NOT told what to say, or what not to say.  I talk about life, ministry, and what it takes to be a pastor, because as you all know.  If you are a pastor of a church, you ARE a businessman.  I believe that I have been afforded this favor, #1: Because of my favor with God and man, but #2: Because I have won our communities trust over the years. 

For 10 years, I was blessed and honored to write a column in our daily newspaper.  It started as a bi-weekly column, then to weekly on the editorial page.  I wrote about anything I wanted too.  The Bible, politics, sports, and general interest.  The column carried a small photo of me at the top, and helped establish me in the area.  

Some of the other community organizations I’ve been involved with include:  Our local United Way chapter.  I served on several of the fundraising committees, and in 1995, I chaired the entire campaign.  We met the goal that year and raised over $700,000 for local charities and organizations. 

We sponsored the chapel for many years at our local YMCA summer camp.  A brand new YMCA was dedicated in the year 2000.  One of the fundraisers for this $6.5 million dollar facility was a re-creation of a Chautauqua that took place in Sterling when the old YMCA was built in 1905.  Who was the speaker at that event in the early 20th century?  The renowned evangelist Billy Sunday.  The 1999 Chautauqua re-creation had Billy Sunday as it’s speaker as well.  Rev. Sunday was played by yours truly.  I went to the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College outside of Chicago, and studied Billy Sunday.  I listened to recordings of his sermons, and watched one of the only known films of him preaching.  All of his sermons from that 1905 event were printed word for word in the next day’s local newspaper.  So when the day came, I was ready.  I preached Jesus to hundreds of people and raised over $8,000 for the local YMCA building campaign.  The funny thing about that day was when a group of local Presbyterians came up to me and said that Billy Sunday was “a wild preacher!”  I said, “Yes, he was, but he also a Presbyterian!”  You should have seen their faces! 

I’ve worked with our local Habitat for Humanity, served as a police chaplain and rode along with officers at night.  Chaired our local Relay for Life walkathon for cancer research.  Served as the Treasurer and Board member of Sterling 2000, which crafted a multi year plan that will renovate the downtown infrastructure of Sterling, IL.  For many years I served on the board of the Sterling Mural Society.  I love history, and the society has had 18 professionally painted murals depicting the local history of Sterling on buildings throughout the downtown.  I’ve prayed at the dedication of each mural, save one, and one mural has the Rhema Faith shield hidden in it. 

Probably the most fun I’ve had in a community organization is being a member of the Sterling Noon Rotary club.  Rotary International is a worldwide organization of more than 1.2 million business, professional, and community leaders. Members of Rotary clubs, known as Rotarians, provide humanitarian service, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and help build goodwill and peace in the world.  There are 33,000 Rotary clubs in more than 200 countries and geographical areas. Clubs are nonpolitical, nonreligious, and open to all cultures, races, and creeds. As signified by the motto Service Above Self, Rotary’s main objective is service — in the community, in the workplace, and throughout the world.  They meet weekly. Many Rotary clubs will meet at the local YMCA, YWCA, or even a church.  Each meeting begins with an invocation, the reciting of the 4 Way test, and the singing of America the Beautiful.  The 4 Way Test bears repeating.  It governs all that we think, say, or do as Rotarians, and besides, it’s as biblically based as you can get:  1. Is it the Truth?  2. Is it Fair to all concerned?  3.  Will it build goodwill and better friendships?  4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?  This July, I will be installed as the new President of our local Rotary club, I’ve been a member since 1992.  I believe approximately a dozen or more families have joined our church as a result of my involvement in Rotary.  Once again, I don’t just walk up to people and invite them, or smack them with the biggest King James version of the Bible in my library.  I listen to the Spirit of God on the inside of me, and when He gives me a green light, I ask, or invite, or listen, or pray with people.  I’m there, I’m available, and more often than not, people come up to me and ask, “what time are your church services?”  Then, I tell them, and hand them a business card.  Folks, always have a supply of your church business cards with you.  Members of your local Rotary club are community leaders.  They are eagles.  And if there is one thing you receive from this article, I pray you get this:  PASTOR, YOU ARE A COMMUNITY LEADER WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT.  SO, LEAD!!  I have sat down at our Rotary club, and had a local businessperson sit down with me, and pour there heart out to me about situations in their life.  From the outside, they look successful, put together, and have the world by the tail, but in reality, they are hurting.  Their spouse is ready to file for divorce, their child is on drugs, etc.  They may already go to church somewhere, but they are embarrassed to say anything because of their position in their congregation.  Well, it would be easy to say, “what a hypocrite!”  No, I see a hurting person, who needs the love of God, and compassion.  I listen, and I pray.  Then, I keep confidence.  I tell folks, “I know so many secrets, I’ve forgotten most of them!” J

Build a great relationship with your local media.  For 6 years we had a 15 minute weekly Sunday morning radio broadcast on our local station WSDR (Sterling, Dixon, Rock Falls).  By the way, this is a secular station, not a Christian station!  We were a sponsor on their Chicago Cubs schedules, which were distributed in every tavern/bar in town.  Talk about “targeted marketing!”  For 6 years, we sponsored a weekly program called “God & You”.  I was “live” in studio with the DJ, and we talked about life, ministry, divorce, sickness, healing, church, you name it.  The local DJ, John Rohwer, Jr. was a local radio legend.  He had an aversion to religion, but always treated me respectfully.  Over 15 years, I ministered to him, at times sowing a spoonful of the seed of God’s Word, and sometimes a handful.  In 2007, John was diagnosed with cancer.  In February of 2008, on a snowy night, in a Roman Catholic hospital in Rockford, Illinois, I was blessed to lead John Rohwer, Jr. to Christ.  In May of that year, I preached his funeral.  For the last 6 years, I’ve been on WSDR every weekday morning at 6:16 am for 5-8 minutes.  The station calls me at home, and I start people’s day off with humor, telling stories, sharing a scripture, talking about the Cubs game from the day before, what’s going on at church, and closing with an inspirational thought.  It’s worth it’s weight in gold to us!!  I can’t go anywhere without people mentioning, “Hey!  I heard you on the radio while I was, getting ready for work, going to work, etc.”  Numbers of people have started attending church.  I just share my heart, and keep it real with people.         

In the early 1990s, I was asked by the principal of our local high school to moderate and intervene in a racial dispute between black and white students and parents.  Along with a local African-American pastor, we sat down, talked, discussed, debated, and prayed with the individuals, and thankfully, worked things out.  Today, that high school principal attends our church, and chaired the stewardship campaign to build our new church facility.

I chaperone at our local high schools homecoming and prom dances.  “Instead of cursing the darkness, BE A LIGHT!  LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE.”  We have had our share of tragedies locally.  Six high school students in a six year period have committed suicide.  I’ve been asked to be a member of the school crisis committee, and have been there for hours ministering to grieving students, teachers, and administrators. 

I attend the local high school football games, basketball games, and track meets.  Two of my three daughters have graduated from high school, but I attended before they were in high school, and I will after they have all graduated.  Why do I go?  Because I love kids, and I kind of like sports too!

In our ministerial circles, one advantage that we have is that we do not have a central ministerial office moving us around every 3-5 years.  There are approximately 70 churches in Sterling/Rock Falls.  On average, 12 pastors leave a year.  Of those churches, I am in the top 3 as far as ministerial longevity in the community (24 years).  It’s a marathon, not a sprint.  As people in the community get to know you, you will be called on.

God has blessed me with favor in praying at the dedication of our new State Police HQ with our then Governor Jim Edgar in attendance.  I’ve given the invocation at the State of Illinois Easter Seals banquet in Chicago which was broadcast live on FOX SPORTS Chicago.  I was fortunate to meet Cub’s hall of famer Ryne Sandberg, and Chicago Bulls player Steve Kerr.  Three times, I have opened the Illinois State Legislature in prayer. How did that happen?  I built a friendship over the years with my state representative and state senator.  Knowing your political representatives is important.  Ministers present a unique perspective, since you represent a chunk of the electorate.  I don’t play party politics, but whenever a vote on certain issues that may affect a church, or a moral issue of great importance is being debated, I get a call from my state rep to talk to me about it.  WHY? Because I’m a big political cahuna? No, because I’ve cultivated a friendship with both my state representative and state senator.  I’ve also reached out in the love of Jesus, love to my state representative, and prayed for his needs.  Guess what folks? Politicians are people too.

I have a wonderful church staff that allows me the latitude to pastor our community, and not just the 4 walls of our church.  Yet, even when I was the only pastor on staff at our church, I made it a priority to reach out, be visible, and approachable.  Here’s something good to know.  Go after the community.  Reach out to the unchurched. 

Most of these things that I have done over the years is just #1 Being led by the Holy Ghost and #2: Volunteering and being available. I pray that this will encourage and strengthen you to lift up your eyes, outside of the 4 walls of your church, to see the harvest in your community!  It’s what Jesus called us to do!