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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Community Partnerships

Church meets needs via strategic cooperative service

By John W. Kennedy
Oct. 19, 2014

When Shell Osbon took over as pastor of Life Church in Smyrna, Ga., in 2003 he gratefully discovered the Assemblies of God congregation enthusiastically supported world missions. But Osbon believed outreach to the local community needed greater emphasis.

Osbon and his wife, Missy, set out to rectify that, starting with the middle school located next door to the church. He asked the principal to allow the church to provide lunches for the faculty and staff on in-service workdays when the cafeteria closed.

“We didn’t preach, we didn’t pass out tracts, we just started serving,” says Osbon. 

The relationship turned out to be the first of 34 “community partnerships” Life Church has developed in the past 11 years with entities that have “shared values.” The partnerships are accomplished through volunteering, hosting events on campus, and providing financial assistance to help organizations accomplish goals.

“We have a great reciprocal relationship with the church,” says Griffin Middle School Principal Mark Trachtenbroit. “We serve needs with each other, but beyond that we also genuinely like each other. We care for each other as human beings. It’s not just an obligation; there is an affinity.”

Before classes started for students in August, volunteers from Life Church fed lunch to the entire staff —125 people — on their first day back for preplanning. The school has offered the church use of its grounds for fellowship events as well as an annual Easter egg hunt in inclement weather. And the two organizations come together to serve Thanksgiving dinner to residents of a nearby low-income apartment complex.

Trachtenbroit is grateful Life Church sponsored a backpack and school supplies giveaway in August, because the majority of the 1,250 students at the Title 1 middle school qualify for free or reduced breakfasts and lunches.

Life Church also has developed strategic relationships with the police department, fire department, hospitals, other schools, manufacturing companies and restaurants.

“I never envisioned or plotted all this, because I’m not smart enough,” Osbon says. “It really was a growing revelation of what God wanted us to do. We found ourselves stumbling into the will of God.”

Local organizations use the church building for meetings virtually every day of the week in Smyrna, an Atlanta suburb of 51,270 people. One group that utilizes the church periodically is Northside Psychological Services. CEO Christopher B. French says the church building has hosted training meetings for 185 staff members in the metro-Atlanta area.

But beyond that, French says he appreciates the involvement of Life Church in numerous cooperative activities to help underprivileged families who Northside Psychological Services assists. Northside and Life Church recently combined efforts on the backpack and school supplies giveaway.

“I’ve worked with a lot of pastors in 25 years, and I’ve never met a pastor who has even been close to the level of dedication Pastor Osbon has, not only for his own church members but to the community as a whole,” French says.

Through the partnerships, Osbon hopes he and his team of ministry volunteers earn the right to become first responders whom people call for prayer and counsel when in a crisis.

“Over time, there is a greater likelihood someone might come to church or come to faith in Christ if they just know we care about them and are willing to help them,” Osbon says. “This has created opportunities for people to worship with us who may never have done so otherwise.”

Various staff members have accepted assignments as liaisons for certain organizations, discerning their needs and then rallying volunteers or raising financial help.

“We don’t have unlimited resources, but we’ve been very intentional in our budget to make sure we have funds available,” Osbon says. “These partnerships can be exhausting and expensive, but they’re worth everything we put into them. Most of those served will never worship with us, but that’s OK.”

A July appreciation event for 76 firefighters and their families is a case in point. The “splish-splash” party allowed kids to play in blowup waterslides, families to eat a meal together, and spouses to take advantage of free spa massage opportunities.

Smyrna Fire Chief Paige Day says the partnership is unique.

“A lot of times churches want to be available, but there is no relationship,” Day says. “What’s so cool about Life Church is that everyone involved is easy to talk to and our staff feels comfortable with them.”

Osbon also has agreed to serve as the fire department’s chaplain.

“We have to take care of our health in a holistic fashion, and that includes spiritual health,” Day says. “If someone has a really bad call or they are not dealing with something that is dangerous, in Shell they have someone who they can reach out to, someone who is unbiased in offering spiritual guidance and will just listen to them.”

Creating a culture of volunteerism at Life Church didn’t happen overnight, yet the 250 who regularly attend Sunday morning services now realize it’s part of the congregation’s DNA. Around 150 church attendees are involved by serving in some capacity.

“We have to set aside some of our own expectations and be willing to help when an event comes up,” Osbon says. “People in the church respond in droves when they understand this is where God has called us.”

While managing a local restaurant, Warren Coleman met Osbon and his family as they frequented the establishment. After a few brief chats about spirituality, Coleman made it clear he had no interest in an ongoing relationship with God.

But when the restaurant fired Coleman he asked for Osbon’s help.

“I had a severe alcohol problem,” Coleman says. “I made a lot of high-risk, reckless choices.”

On advice from Osbon, Coleman ended up in a yearlong stay at a Teen Challenge facility in Louisiana.

Coleman completed the Teen Challenge program in June, and he is now in an accountability program at Life Church.

“I would have ended up in jail or the hospital — or dead — if I hadn’t encountered Shell,” Coleman says.

Osbon, who notes that Life Church also supports 65 missionaries, believes every congregation can develop community partnerships, regardless of attendance size, geographical location, or annual budget.

“It’s not really about organizations; it’s about people,” Osbon says. “Every organization we partner with is comprised of people. That’s the reason Jesus came — for people. A very practical partnership pretty quickly turns into a spiritual relationship because people can’t resist real love and concern as the church builds bridges with the community.”

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.


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