Phil Miglioratti @ The Reimagine.Network Interviewed Alan Doswald, Citywide Catalyst for Fresno, California
PHIL>>> Alan, you have served in citywide ministry since 1972, mobilizing churches to reach out to people in need across their community. Where did this passion come from?
ALAN>>> It primarily came from the Bible. When I came to Christ at 18 through Youth for Christ, I read the whole Bible once and the New Testament twice to find out how to live as a Christian. I took lots of notes. I wanted to follow Christ, not just believe in Him. The Holy Spirit has sustained me and led me through the years. I see myself as a dumb sheep following a great shepherd, it’s an adventure. In fact, I wrote a book entitled, "Pray and Do the Next Thing.”
PHIL>>> Unpack these statements for us:
• "We hope to see Christian churches in Fresno/Clovis united in purpose and committed to living out their faith as members of the Body of Christ, by lovingly serving their neighbors in need."
>>> Is this the calling of the Gospel to some/every Christian? ...Church?
ALAN>>> Most definitely. When Jesus was asked, what is the most important commandment, he replied love God and love your neighbors as yourself. (Matthew 22 and Mark 13). He said there is no commandment greater than these and that all of the Bible, at that time hung on these two commandments. If Jesus is our Lord, we do what He says. There are many ways to obey these commandments, but we can't ignore Jesus' commands to us and the church.
• "We mobilize Christian churches and individuals to transform lives and communities in the name of Christ."
>>> Unpack "mobilize?" What is the basis of the unified action? (are you building an organization or a ministry? Is it doctrine or something else that binds you together?)
ALAN>>> The ministry I founded in 1982 is called Evangelicals for Social Action. The word "evangelical" basically means we believe the Bible, it is our authority for what we believe and what we do. The term "social action" means we actually obey the Bible. The Bible says to be doers of the word, not just hearers. (James) We mobilize Christian churches and individuals to get moving, obey the Bible and make a difference. Our key ESA scripture is James 2:14-17 which reads "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." I think that sums it up.
We are working to help churches and Christians work together to reach our city for Christ through both word and deed. Jesus said that when people see our good deeds, they will praise our Father in heaven (Matthew 5). He also said in Psalms 133, "how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity." That is God’s desire.
• Loving Our Neighbors: “A vision to help the whole Church take the whole Gospel to the whole community.”
>>> Why is this the foundation of your vision for citywide cooperation?
ALAN>>> Loving our Neighbors, apart from being part of the greatest command, is the only way we could reach our city for Christ. If we had a large evangelistic event, most non-believers would not attend. We know this because we’ve tried this several times. Another way to look at it is this: There are about 500 churches in our city. What if every church was seen as a "water tank" where thirsty people could find living water? Unfortunately most non-believers would not go out of their way to get to the "water tanks." But, what if believers who already have living water within them (John 7:38) would share that water with those around them. There would be plenty to share. Our city has about 600,000 people and about 100,000 of them are believers. If every Christian shared with 5 others, it would cover our city. If we would simply pray, care and share the gospel with our neighbors, it could change their lives, our lives and our city. That’s why loving our neighbors is functional for our vision of reaching our city for Christ.
• Prayer Gatherings: “We help facilitate pastor prayer summits, National Day of Prayer events, and citywide gatherings.”
>>> Why bring pastors together for prayer? Benefits of citywide gatherings?
ALAN>>> It was 1992 when we held our first Pastor Prayer Summit. 45 pastors went to the mountains for 4 days and prayed together. When I returned to Fresno, one of my cynical friends asked what we did and I told him we prayed. He asked if we started any new ministries or accomplished anything. I told him that 45 pastors became best friends, now you watch what happens. That began a season of great prayer and growth of ministries. It also began a time of growing unity among pastors and ministry leaders that continues today. We found that when we’re all on our knees talking to our boss, the Lord, it doesn’t matter how large your church is or how much money you have. We’re all God’s servants on the same level. I shared with you the beginning of Psalms 133. The ending describes the results of unity where it says, "For there the Lord bestows His blessing, even life forevermore." God has blessed us.
• Citybuilders Roundtable: “A monthly networking meeting of para-church leaders to facilitate collaboration between ministries in our city.”
>>> How is this different from pastors or citywide prayer gatherings? What is the outcome you seek?
ALAN>>> Sometimes people focus exclusively on the church and its vital role in our community and diminish the role of parachurch ministries. It’s important that they work together. In the early church, there were also parachurch ministries, often focused on missions. When the church in Antioch sent the Apostle Paul on his mission, believers from different churches joined him creating a parachurch ministry. There is a great article about this called "The Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission" by Ralph D. Winter. The main focus of most churches is their flock (congregation) and most parachurch ministries are focused more on the community.
• Connections: “Our team develops and participates in local coalitions and task forces, for the purpose of connecting churches, to make a difference. There are currently 12 of these connections.”
>>> Why are localized and need-focused networks vital?
ALAN>>> We’ve all heard the phrase, "it’s who you know." This is true of local networks. It’s important to know who does what when you need them. When you need the police or fire department, it’s good to know how to contact them quickly. I Corinthians 12 talks about the importance of the various roles in the Body of Christ - it takes a team. It's good to know who does what, but it's even better to actually know them personally, to have relationship with them. For example calling a church to talk to a pastor I don't know is far different than calling a church and saying, "this is Alan, is Bob there?" This produces much better results. In Fresno, we have great unity and work together well. We are currently developing a new ministry called "Moving Unity Forward" where we gather pastors and Christian leaders together in small, diverse groups to overcome barriers of race, denomination, and age. Our goal is to help them become friends then start another group. Friends help friends.
>>> What do you present and why is this vital to citywide networking and collaboration?
ALAN>>> Over 40 years ago, the Lord led me to begin the ministry of ESA. I had no idea what to do, I had never directed a ministry before. Over the years, the Lord brought people that had experience in certain areas, that I could learn from. A few years ago, I realized that I had almost 4 decades of experience as an Executive Director. I began sharing the basics of serving as an Executive Director. It is a 6 hour training and so far I have trained 83 Executive Directors. I became a mentor to those I train. I tell the trainees that what I have to offer them is my experience. I also tell them that I will teach them how I lead a ministry and that it works and its legal. I wish I had this help when I began ESA many years ago.
• New Pastor Orientation: “We meet with new local pastors to introduce them to our city and to what the Lord is doing in our city.”
>>> Does this help build relationships? Unity? Cooperation?
ALAN>>> When a new pastor comes to town, they can often feel lost. We help them get the lay of the land and connect them with other pastors in the city. We also help them understand the Christian history of our city and what’s happening at the present time. We do our best to plug them into the Body of Christ. We answer their questions, even questions about the best restaurants. Then we make ourselves available for any questions they may have in the future. New pastors are very grateful for the help and it contributes to the unity of pastors and ministry leaders in our city. It's like a welcome to the family!
• The Prayer-Care-Share Lifestyle: “A biblical DNA for discipleship-evangelism.
>>> Share your passion for P-C-S
ALAN>>> The Mission America Coalition taught me that the 3 essentials for Biblical evangelism are prayer-care-share. They are the underlying principles for what we do in ESA. Prayer is where we ask our Lord for direction. We are dumb sheep but He is a great shepherd, quite capable of leading us. Will we follow? I wrote a book about this called "Pray and Do the Next Thing." So the first step is to ask God, after all, He is God. The next step is to care for others. How and what others? Jesus said to love them as we love ourselves. How do we love ourselves? Basically by meeting our own needs, which is how we are to love others. Who should we love? Jesus said to love our neighbors, which means "near ones." So, we are to care about the needs of anyone we are near. That's what Jesus did again and again in the Gospels. We shouldn't build bridges and not cross them. Just as someone shared the Gospel with us, we should be ready to share the Gospel with others, as the Lord leads us. If Christians would pray, care and share with others, it would change their lives and the lives of others.
PHIL>>> Since the birth of your citywide movement, social action has been a driving force ... Why is this still debated, even controversial, in evangelical ministries?
ALAN>>> There used to be a term called "The Social Gospel" which implied that people are saved by doing good deeds and not by faith alone. We don't hear this much anymore, because most Christians agree with James 2:14-17 that "faith without works is dead." This is the main scripture of ESA. People define "social action" in different ways, but I define it as social justice and social service. There are many scriptures to back up this definition. Social action means you do something with your faith.
PHIL>>> “Pray and Do The Next Thing" is the title of your book. What does it mean and how can it help us #reimagineCHURCH... ministry ... evangelism ...
ALAN>>> The analogy of sheep and a shepherd is my favorite picture of our relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ, our Great Shepherd. When I began at ESA I knew I was called but I was completely overwhelmed and wanted to quit. I prayed and told God that if He told me what to do I would do it, but if He didn't tell me what to do, I would do nothing. Guess what? God told me what to do and He hasn't stopped. He has led ESA to start 50 ministries. God answers prayer. Fast forward to about 10 years ago when a group from another city visited us and asked for our business plan. I told them we didn't have one. When they asked for our plan, I once again told them we don't have one. Then they asked me how we do what we do. I thought about it and replied, "we pray and do the next thing." When the Lord does call ESA to start a new ministry, we plan it very well. We just don't like to make our plans that leave outthe Lord. After all, He is the Lord (boss) and He is our Good Shepherd.
PHIL>>> Any additional insight you want to share?
ALAN>>> When I became a Christian through Youth for Christ at 18 years old, I started reading the Bible. I wanted to know how to live as a Christian, so I took lots of notes and studied them. I decided to do my best to follow the Lord and obey His word. One year later, at age 19, I went into ministry with YFC and now I've been in ministry for 52 years. I've found that God is faithful and we can trust Him to lead us as we "Pray and Do the Next Thing." I have found this scripture to be quite true in my life: Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV
PHIL>>> Alan, please write a prayer other citywide catalysts who resonate with your vision to embark on a new adventure can pray as they read this...
ALAN>>> A prayer for leaders: "Lord, please help us trust and obey. Help us put our lives in your capable hands and expect you to lead us. Help us pray and do the next thing. Help us not lean on our own understanding, but allow you to be our Lord (Proverbs 3:5-6). Direct our paths Lord. "