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Artie Lindsay on Working as One Church in the Neighborhood

Artie Lindsay is the teaching pastor at Tabernacle Community Church, a multiracial congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In this edited conversation, he talks about the joys and challenges of serving the Alger Heights neighborhood.

Artie Lindsay is the teaching pastor at Tabernacle Community Church, a multiracial congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In this edited conversation, he talks about the joys and challenges of serving the Alger Heights neighborhood.

How do your worship services inspire worshipers to commit to your place?

This is primarily through Sunday morning teachings and announcements specific to the call to serve the Alger Heights community. We post neighborhood newsletters and flyers of neighborhood happenings. When we announce something that our ministries are connected with, it’s always with reasons why worshipers should care and be involved.

Christians sometimes quote 2 Peter 3:7-12 to say that everything will burn on the Day of Judgment, so we shouldn’t focus much on environmental or community issues. Theologically, how do you explain Tabernacle’s commitment to neighbors in a particular place?

Great question. We have argued from many viewpoints—the creation, incarnation, and cross, that is, sharing with Christ in others’ suffering—as reasons to engage. We have also used Acts 1:8 specifically as our call to the area in which we live. As a church we have identified what is our ‘Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the world.’ So, in sermons I include stories of neighborhood things we’re directly involved in and I remind them, “Remember, Tabernacle, this is our Jerusalem. As a faith community, this is where God is calling us to serve.”

Can you give an example of a story shared in a sermon?

A few years back we got involved in a project of ridding our community of porn at the neighborhood video store. We shared with our congregation that the store manager offered to get rid of it by selling it at a discounted rate. He couldn’t or wouldn’t take the loss in his sales by throwing it away. We suggested that our congregation purchase all the videos so that they would not be released into the community. They were handled appropriately by some women in our congregation who removed labels. As part of a sermon connected with sexual purity, we destroyed all the videos on a Sunday morning with three industrial strength shredders. Pastor Marvin actually preached that message.

How (and why) do you work with other congregations to bless your neighborhood?

Just over two years ago, God impressed upon my heart that if real community transformation was going to happen, it would be because the Church of Jesus Christ in Alger Heights would unite to bring the kingdom of God to bear on our neighborhood. So, I began having conversations with church leaders from Alger Park Church, Seymour Church, and The Branch, and out of that discussion was born the Church of Alger Heights.

Together we put on a women’s retreat. We’ve also formed the Alger Heights Collaborative and are hiring a community coordinator so that our churches, local middle school, neighborhood association, and business association can work together to identify and address local community wants and needs.

Simply staying involved in church activities takes time, energy, and money. No church can do everything, so what has to give?

Tabernacle began 10 years ago with a very simple approach of trying to identify where God was working, and attempting to place our energies in that direction. We have worked really hard at instilling a missional mindset, so that much of what we do is decentralized.

We are continuing to work at helping people to see that they are the Church and not the building. Unfortunately, adding more and more programs where people have to come to the church building for participation  only confuses that issue. As a result, we have resisted the temptation of our consumer-driven culture to add more programs. Honestly, some years we have been more focused than others in not getting caught up in the cultural waves.

What challenges do these partnerships bring?

One challenge is being identified with things that we don't agree with. That has hindered us from engaging in some areas that we have identified as an important issue. For example, we have done some work in HIV/AIDS education. We started doing rapid HIV testing in partnership with Kent County Health Department.

As a part of their testing process, they always give everyone who is tested a little grab bag that includes a condom. I was tested, as well as others from our church, as a way of identifying with the experience. For some reason they didn’t do grab bags that first day. On the next test date, they did hand out condoms. Someone got wind of it, and that became a huge discussion among our elders. After many conversations and attempts on my end to come to some viable options for both our church and Kent County to move forward in helping people know their status, we were not able to agree. So, unfortunately, we are no longer partnering with them. 

Do you at Tabernacle see yourselves as ministering to or ministering with non-Christian neighbors and organizations?

We are ministering with non-Christian neighbors and organizations in common efforts. We have not typically had an issue as a faith community with fighting over power. It's more important that the purposes of God are accomplished in the world.