By Dan Lang
Since my youth, the burning conviction to be a preacher moved me in the direction God wanted me to go. There was no escaping it. I was compelled. During training at Lincoln Christian University, Jesus’ commission to make disciples of all people jelled for me as the simple but profound strategic mission that would shape the way I carried out my personal call to leadership ministry. A picture materialized of what my ministry in a local church might look like.
I never dreamed I would be in my 28th year leading an increasingly diverse urban church with the accompanying challenges, but I’m thrilled to be right where God wants me.
God leads and we follow, even in unexpected directions. Western Hills Church of Christ is not a large church, but each Sunday we provide four different-styled worship services in three different languages. Because interpretation has great limitations, God led us to birth a deaf church within our congregation; our deaf members actively participate in that service, which is led by preacher Rod Burke, who is deaf and blind.
Latinos are the fastest-growing ethnic group in our city, but we had no clue how to minister to them. We couldn’t afford it, but God prompted us to sponsor Octavio Ruiz, a Mexican professor from Colegio Biblico, to attend grad school at Cincinnati Christian University in exchange for him leading Bible studies in Spanish. It immediately bloomed into a Latino church within our church.
Ethnic diversity is changing our longtime conservative, German Catholic, and white Appalachian area of the city. It’s culture shock! God brings up to 12 different nationalities to our church on any given Sunday. We try to welcome, adapt, build new friendships, and meet needs in our community because God called us to “disciple the ethnics.”
In response, we have amped up our community outreach ministries, which include clothing giveaways, free meals, free school supplies at our back-to-school events, addiction recovery groups, and work projects (like building wheelchair ramps) for needy neighborhood families.
This attracts many individuals to our church who are impoverished, addicted, or have special needs—all of whom we are ill-equipped to serve, but we simply trust in God to help us lead and love them the best we can.
Our urban church is resource-challenged and constantly faced with more ministry than we can afford, but we dare to serve with creativity, trust, and sacrifice. Our paid leaders are underpaid but committed to carrying out our church’s call and mission. Our financial limitations haven’t stopped us from helping to plant at least 10 new churches in the last dozen years. This is what God does when we are committed to obeying the call to serve where he has planted us!
It breaks my heart that some good families and friends have left our fellowship because they struggled with the urbanization of our church. Yet God needs a light in our community, and he has planted us here for a reason. We are not relocating to reach white middle-class people in growing communities. We are honoring the call right where we live.
I’ll be candid. I was advised by most of my confidants not to accept the lead ministry of the church I currently serve. In the 18 months prior to my arrival, one-third of the congregation left. The church had a million-dollar mortgage that was gobbling up two to three offerings each month. The entire ministry staff had jumped ship. Many changes needed to be made, and I didn’t see some difficult issues until I arrived.
But I could not deny the prompting of God to take a leadership role here. Through the years I have faced rare moments when I thought my leadership effectiveness was over, or when attractive, seemingly more fruitful opportunities were offered. But I resolved to invest myself until God made it clear he wanted me elsewhere. So I remain zealous for our mission right here!
It has been a rugged but rewarding journey requiring endurance and devotion. We have not enjoyed exponential numerical growth. We don’t baptize more than 100 each year. We don’t have the nicest campus, the hippest band, the latest technology, or the most robust programming. The temptation to compare has risen in my heart on many occasions. But the Lord has consistently helped me recalibrate by measuring according to his call.
We don’t need the spotlight. We need to be faithful to make disciples of all people, at any cost, right where he wants us and needs us! It’s not all I dreamed it would be. It’s better! It’s pouring it out for a worthy and most challenging call!
Dan Lang serves as lead minister with Western Hills Church of Christ in Cincinnati, Ohio.