Recipe for Community Ministry: The Left Out

In over four years here in Texas serving as a mission coach, I have often been asked what a church can do to revitalize its ministry and grow? I firmly believe any congregation can by responding to God’s call to engage in the kind of ministry Jesus did and reach out to the least, the lost, and the left out. Jesus gives us this recipe for community ministry in Luke 15 through the stories of the lost coin, the lost son, and the lost sheep.
In Luke 15:4-7, Jesus engages his listeners in a little story about sheep: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’” Commentators will often note that a shepherd wouldn’t leave the ninety-nine alone, but with other shepherds and often in some sort of safe enclosure or pen. And I believe this points to the scandal in Jesus’ story: that this shepherd leaves the 99 in the open and vulnerable in order to rescue the one who is lost. For me it begs the question, “who would do that?” The answer: Jesus.
Throughout Luke 15, Jesus is pointing out to his listeners that God radically cares for the least, the lost, and the left out. The one sheep who had someone gotten separated from the rest could have easily been overlooked or forgotten. With this parable, I believe Jesus is reminding us to be on the lookout for those who are left out, easily overlooked, or even forgotten. In the church we often are really good at counting those who are with us on a Sunday morning. Most churches have volunteers or staff who are assigned that specific task. But how much attention are we paying to those who are not? And I’m not referring only to church members not in worship, but even more importantly to those all around us in our communities who are routinely left out, forgotten, or overlooked by almost everyone.
How are we demonstrating the boundless love of God towards those who are left out? What can we do to love, care for, minister to, and include the struggling single parent, the lonely senior citizen, the grieving widow or widower, the chronically ill, the imprisoned, the physically or mentally disabled, the disadvantaged child, or the desperate immigrant? Jesus reminds us that God rejoices when each one of these left out and overlooked are sought out, cared for, and rescued by the Good Shepherd. Who in your community is being left out and overlooked? I encourage you and your church, trusting in God’s love of those within the flock, to intentionally take the time to identify, seek out, and minister to those around you that have been left out.
Pastor Bryce Formwalt is the Director of Mission Growth for LCMC Texas District. Residing in Georgetown, Pastor Bryce is available to coach congregations on mission. Feel free to contact him with any questions or comments: 512-942-7776 or