Feature

Nobody’s Perfect!

What’s happening in that neighborhood?

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“No perfect people allowed!” That’s the motto for a new church plant in the heart of North Toledo, Ohio. Open since October 2010, That Neighborhood Church (TNC) has experienced some amazing God moments. TNC was birthed out of a pre-existing church. Constructed in 1902, the building had hosted several denominations over the years. It had been vacant for almost 15 years when a pastor named James Mann planted Northgate Church in it and “plowed the field” for what was about to take place.

I first met James in 2004, when I began helping at an after-school program at Northgate. Four years later, when I was at a conference in Thailand, I met James and his wife again. And as James shared the realities of the Northgate neighborhood, God began to awaken my heart. The night before I left, I was standing at the top of the tallest hotel in Bangkok, looking over the city, when the Lord whispered, Don’t forget about North Toledo when you get home.

Many families in North Toledo are trapped in the grip of generational poverty, hopelessness and spiritual apathy. Jesus is very clear about how He feels about those He often called “the least of these” and what the response of those who call themselves Christ followers should be. When I returned to Ohio from Thailand, I created a short-term missions trip to Northgate for fifth and sixth graders from Westgate Chapel (C&MA) in Sylvania, Ohio, the church where I was serving as the children’s minister. After three years of being involved in outreaches and ministry opportunities, my heart began to break, and God’s call was confirmed. James and his wife, Sue, felt led to care for James’s parents, and I became senior pastor of Northgate at the end of the summer.

During the time I was involved in outreach at Northgate, God showed me a passage in 2 Corinthians 8 that lays out a model of ministry between “urban” churches and “suburban” churches. The key is partnership. I knew that for the church to survive, we needed to develop healthy partnerships with various churches and organizations. Westgate Chapel was the first to jump in. They have been a strategic partner with TNC (first through Northgate) for four years. With this partnership in place and renovations completed, TNC was opened October 2, 2010

Come As You Are

Our vision at TNC is simple: to love God, love people and prove it by what we do and say. We are a “come as you are” church where no perfect people are allowed. If you hang out with us for very long, you will realize how true that is—we are all imperfect people who need Jesus. TNC is a true neighborhood church where at least half of those who attend walk to our service every Saturday. Many are former prostitutes or crack addicts or are caught in generational poverty.

People learn about our services in many different ways. Most invite their friends. Two months ago, a man who was obviously drunk staggered into our worship service. He listened to the music for a while and then left. Another man also came that same night for the first time. After the service I asked him how he learned about the church. I found out that our “drunken friend” was standing outside when the man walked by and challenged him to go into the service. “I’m not going in until you do!” the drunk countered. The man led the way, enjoyed the service and has been back ever since.

Since October, 13 people have accepted Christ and two Bible studies have been started. One of our big God moments was our first baptism service. That morning, I ran into “Junior,” a man who lives across the street. We had a great conversation, and I told him about The Well, a place we will be opening in the church basement so people in the neighborhood can enjoy free coffee. Junior would never go to church, but he said he would come to The Well. Later that morning I saw another neighbor. Her kids come to church every Saturday, but she has never joined them. When I told her about the baptism service, she asked if her oldest, Sam, could get baptized. At 2:00 p.m., Sam came over, and I went through a booklet with him on baptism. Afterward, I told him to make sure his mom was there to see him get baptized. I felt God prompting me to set up more chairs.

Leanne, a former prostitute and drug addict called and said she was very fearful about the baptism service. She understood what it really meant—surrender!

“What if I get baptized and then mess up?” she asked. She decided to go through with it. By then, we had nine who were ready to take the plunge.

As time got closer the room started to fill up. Sam’s mom arrived. Keith, Leanne’s friend who had never come to church, was there to witness her commitment. A man arrived who had a warrant out for his arrest. By the time the service started we were almost full, not counting the kids. Total attendance was about 170.

Among those who got baptized was a woman who had practiced witchcraft for more than seven years, two former prostitutes/drug addicts (one of whom wants to open a house for those escaping sex trafficking) and a former crack/cocaine addict who is transgender. After the service several people told me how amazing it was, including a friend who was at a very low point in his life. “It filled up my soul,” he said.

But God wasn’t done yet!

Coming Alongside

After the service we had a party downstairs. The man with the warrant was sitting down to eat when I invited him upstairs to pray with me and three other guys. During our prayer he broke down and said he wanted to turn himself in but was afraid. Rob (who had just been baptized) joined us in prayer. After we were done, two of the guys took the man to the police station. I was totally overwhelmed. I just fell on my face before God! With tears of joy I thanked Him for what He has done at TNC.

The story hasn’t ended for our friend. I have visited with him, and God is using him in jail. When he arrived, the other inmates wanted to know how he got caught. He told them he turned himself in.

“You idiot!” they jeered. “Why did you do that?”

“I have an awesome church that came alongside of me and wants to help me through this,” he responded. “And I turned myself in because that’s what a man does! I want to become the kind of man God wants me to be.” He also told me the first thing he’s going to do when he gets out is get baptized.

None of us are anything special at TNC—we all need Jesus. We want to become a place where people can experience God’s love and truth in a safe environment. We not only want those from the neighborhood to experience God’s love, but also those from suburbia who create friendships and become part of our community. Plans are now in the works for a ministry called That Neighborhood Garage to provide free tune ups and train people from the neighborhood how to fix their own vehicles. Also, area doctors and nurses are planning to open That Neighborhood Clinic to provide health care.

As the year progresses our goal is to continue to listen to God’s whispers and then have the courage to follow through no matter what the cost.

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