By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
HERMITAGE — Pastor David Taft sees First Baptist Church here as a “gas station” which serves a few people at a time.
“Our goal is not to get a lot of people in the building, but to get Christ in people. …
“The church cannot be the church if we remove ourselves from the community,” declared Taft.
“If I can’t relate to them, there’s no chance for them to see what Christ is like. … If I don’t know them, then how can I understand them and help them?” he asked.
“What I would say to the church is, ‘Could we just wake up and learn who our neighbor is?’ ”
For First Baptist, Hermitage, its neighbors live in apartment complexes or multi-housing units, explained Taft, the pastor.
Thankfully, because of its multi-housing ministry over the years, he and other members of the church have seen folks make professions of faith, families assisted, friendships formed across racial and economic groups, teens enjoying something constructive, children having fun, and much more, said Taft.
One reason for the many diverse opportunities and needs in metropolitan Nashville is that the government is integrating families receiving government-subsidized rent with families who don’t, he explained.
When he questioned about helping families who abuse government aid, he responds, “Would you trade places with them?”
Some tips for multi-housing ministry
Taft is a natural relating to the many children in apartment complexes partly because he taught elementary school for 26 years in Nashville in inner-city neighborhoods. He followed in his father’s footsteps because his father did the same while “being aware of the greater community,” explained Taft. For instance, the late Norman Taft was a scout leader for an all black Boy Scout troop for many years, noted his son proudly.
But most people can relate to these children and small churches can serve in multi-housing ministry, assured Taft. FBC, Hermitage draws about 75 people to Sunday morning activities. However, it leads a ministry in apartment complexes by relying on family, friends, and members of other churches.
In fact, a small number of middle schoolers, some of whom he and other church members recruit from friends and family, are his leaders, Taft explained. They usually have siblings so they are good at supervising children. They are good at details and can fill out forms, added the pastor. He uses them in twos to visit residents in apartments, announce an event, and obtain written permission for children to participate in an event the week before the event. Of course, the middle schoolers (ages 11-13) are always in view of an adult while in the apartment complex. Finally, they are athletic and have great endurance, Taft observed.
Obtaining this paperwork is absolutely necessary to protect the church legally whether or not children are transported anywhere, explained the pastor.
This procedure also takes into account the somewhat loose supervision that some children in multi-housing areas have. Single parent homes are common, he added.
Though it seems counterintuitive to ministry, do not allow a child who is not on the roll to join the group for liability reasons, he advised.
Taft’s main tip for multi-housing ministry is to keep it simple.
“You don’t have to have a professional setting. These kids don’t have that. They are used to relying on their creativity,” he added.
In one apartment complex leaders use a portion of a parking area for a Backyard Bible Club or what the church has dubbed ROC (Reaching Our Community) the Block. The church designates the area for the event by boxing it in with a church van or two. First offers ROC the Block for nine weeks one evening each week. Last year ROC the Block was held in three sites simultaneously.
Tarps and cushions rather than chairs and tables are another way to keep it simple. Puppet shows can be conducted from the windows of a van or from a screen made from black foam board taped together with a slot cut in it for viewing the puppets.
Leaders also have used two automotive oil change pans. They can be hinged so they become a sign to which magnets adhere. Magnets also can transform the side of a van or bus into a place for displaying items.
Minimal materials save money and avoid an emphasis on literacy vs. language, explained Taft. Reading text can be a burden to underprivileged children, he noted. When school is often a place “where they failed, why do we bring them back to a context where they’ve failed?”
Instead, the event leaders should focus on relationships, he observed. Activity in the form of games and music is very important because the children have very small, cramped spaces in which to live, added Taft. For discipline, he suggested a reward such as playing a game if a child can show the leader that they can listen rather than negative comments directed at a child.
Taft and his wife, Lynn, write and compile the curriculum for the nine-week ROC the Block including songs which are sung to popular tunes such as “Jingle Bells” or “BINGO.” Underprivileged children also love to say a “patch,” which is a poem spoken to a rhythm made by clapping, stomping, and slapping the beat on one’s body, he explained.
Schedules and time are treated differently by people in poverty, he advised. Leaders need to be flexible, even in bus ministries, which the church also provides.
The first agenda item for multi-housing ministry is meeting and befriending the apartment manager so permission can be obtained to hold an event in the complex. Then, just like missionaries, locate a “person of peace.” If the person of peace approves of the event, it will be accepted by most other residents and they will help protect the workers from any violence which might occur, he explained.
Taft said just as he sees the members of his church, he views those he has met in apartments “not as a ministry or project. I just treat them like they’re family.”
One lady joined children and students at a summer event held in her complex. One day she told Taft that she wanted to be baptized. After learning she needed to make a profession of faith and leading her easily to that commitment, Taft baptized her at First, Hermitage.
As he and other members of First got to know the lady, they stepped in to meet some very critical needs related to family and health issues.
“That makes all of the efforts worthwhile,” said Taft. Many of the people he has seen become Christians through multi-housing ministry will never regularly attend First Baptist, Hermitage, “but I’m not going to worry about that anymore,” said Taft.
“We’re supposed to be light and salt to the world, and instead we’re staying in our buildings, often rotting away.”
Christians are to be witnesses, he added. “A witness does not teach people; a witness shows people.”