An Update as our Church Grows in Charity

By: Tim Ritter

This is the final installment of our 5-part Wisdom for Charity blog series.

Where We’ve Been

Reality SF is about 4.5 years old now. God’s blessed us with an incredible few years of life, ministry, and maturation. We’ve celebrated incredible victories while learning some tough lessons. We don’t have to downplay the fruit of God’s work to recognize we’ve made our fair share of mistakes in these first few years.

From the get go, our church has always been eager to partake in God’s mission in San Francisco. We’ve been active and zealous, hungry for the kingdom to break forth, especially in the most broken parts of the city. A flood of us dedicated time to serving in the Tenderloin, working with YWAM, Because Justice Matters, and City Impact. For a while, nearly 100 of our people served with Adopt a Building each week. We’ve also worked with City Team, Old Skool Café, Project Bayview, New Door, and more. And beyond volunteering, we’ve challenged ourselves to be salt and light in our neighborhoods and workplaces. Of course, this is all in addition to volunteering on Sundays, leading and hosting Community Groups, caring for one another, working 40-50 hours per week, and well, living life (lots of life, too, just look at all the new babies in our church!). We haven’t been stuck in our seats; we’ve been busy, getting out there trying to do good for our city and each other.

Good job, church. Seriously, praise God that He’s given us such energy and excitement to serve. It’s been an honor to be a part of.

This doesn’t mean we’re perfect, though. We have much to learn and some good growing up to do, and it begins with leadership. So, we’ve spent the past year reflecting and exploring, asking, what does it mean for us to be faithful in mission here? We’ve talked, prayed, and read a lot, asking questions and listening to responses, even when difficult to hear. It’s included many humbling gut-checks. The verdict is in: We don’t have it all figured out. However, we think God’s given us some wisdom. We see some of our weaknesses and shortcomings. And now, we’re entering into a season of response. I’d like to share a bit about what it entails.

A Mission Team and Philosophy

First, we’ve developed a Mission Team. Praise God! Early on, it fell on the pastors to maintain ministry partnerships, determine financial support, care for our vocational missionaries, and equip the church for ministry. Now, we have an incredible team working to serve the church, giving guidance and support in mission.

This past year, the team worked hard to solidify a Mission Philosophy. We realized early on that there are many ideas in the air in regard to mission. If we didn’t earnestly resolve what we’re for, we’d be blown around by the winds of culture. Forging a philosophy was integral and, after a year, we’re excited to share it with you.

The philosophy gives us guidance and clarity. A fundamental part of the Mission Team’s role is to steward Reality’s mission fund, which is the portion of church finances set aside for investment in local and global mission. We have to decide where to give and not give, fielding a plethora of requests and suggestions. In this role, we’ve realized stewardship must take precedent over sentiment. As hard as it is, we have to invest wisely, saying ‘no’ more often than not. Based on our beliefs, we established relatively strict criteria for financial support. Inevitably, they’ll frustrate some, but overall, they help us make the most of our mission investment.

Moving Forward in Ministry 

In Wisdom for Charity, we’ve discussed some of the sobering difficulties in serving well. We’ve asked, is it always good to give and how do we love best? We looked at the dangers of assuming too much and serving with a false sense of success. Though a mere sample of the wisdom we’ve needed, it’s revealed a significant shift in our trajectory.

Early on, it was tempting to see our extensive engagement with the city’s poor as clear success. It seemed like we were doing the whole “missional” thing pretty well. However, reports of volunteer burnout, frustration, and confusion are still coming in. With them, stories of accidental enablement and disempowerment pile up. The evidence is clear: While God’s done amazing things through us, we’ve been a young, zealous church, high on ideals but short on practical wisdom. As we establish roots here, we must mature in ministry, asking whether all our energy and involvement is actually loving well.

Together, we’re still learning, but we’ve seen a few unavoidable realities.

Ours is a culture of hyped-up causes and quick fixes. We think we can save the world, or at least the city, but get frustrated when it doesn’t happen right away. Many of us, myself included, have had a sort of young, blind zeal for ministry. This led to short spurts of often arrogant and triumphalist service leading inevitably to burnout. We need humility and patience and a reset to realistic expectations. As we mature, we’re learning to shift our focus toward slow, persistent, long-term development. It’s not as glamorous as the flashy plan to save the poor in six easy steps, but we believe it’s how real ministry works.

We also just need more wisdom. Most of us are at a total loss for how to address the drug-riddled brokenness of inner city San Francisco. Here, again, we’ve recognized some pride. We weren’t the first church heartbroken by the TL and we won’t be the last. However, we never really stopped to ask anyone else for wisdom. I think, if we’re honest, a lot of us even thought we had it figured out for a while, but we don’t. However, there are great ministries here that can teach us quite a bit, so this year we’ve learned to ask for help.

Serving the City

One of our biggest questions involved Serve the City, our one-day service event in the Tenderloin. After two exciting years, we had to ask, should we be doing this? Again, it’s really tempting to feel good about yourself when you make the Chronicle serving the poor. But, after asking around and exploring the issue of chronic poverty, we faced some hard truth. Our big splash seemed to miss the point. Whatever transformation happens in the TL is going to happen slowly, through relationships, not annual events. And, it’s possible the big day does some real harm to the community. So, we could keep going with Serve the City as usual, making headlines every year, or we could humbly step back to reassess.

Therefore, we‘ve decided to take a fallow year to pursue wiser approaches to local ministry. We’ve learned that becoming the kind of people that can serve faithfully and effectively here for years is more important than keeping the popular train rolling. We’re not done serving; we just want to serve better. Together, we plan to pursue wisdom, dialoguing around important questions and learning from those around us. Next year, we’ll try to apply our wisdom, taking potentially an entirely new approach to serving our city.

In the meantime, if these ideas or decisions don’t make sense, do some of your own homework. Read the other Wisdom for Charity blogs, the Mission Philosophy, check out our ministry partners and Mission Team on our About page, and even some of the books we recommended. If you’re still not sold, use this summer to get to know some of the poor in our city, learning from them what it means to serve well.

 

As we look back on our youth years, there’s much to celebrate. God’s blessed us abundantly as his hands and feet, even in our immaturity. We can only wonder at how great the road before us will be as He shepherds us into wisdom and maturity.