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The Rev. Dan Rogers, president and CEO of Cherry Street Mission Ministries, wants churches to see themselves and their communities in a new light.
To make that happen, he's started the Phillip Project, named after the Bible story in the Book of Acts, Chapter 8, in which an Ethiopian eunuch who was a high-ranking government official was riding in a chariot, reading the Book of Isaiah.
Phillip, the 1st-century evangelist, runs alongside the chariot and asks, "Do you understand what you are reading?" The eunuch replies, "How can I unless someone explains it to me?"
Mr. Rogers believes the same lack of understanding plagues the church today.
"It bugs me that we see things that you don't see," Mr. Rogers said. "Allow me to be Phillip and run alongside you."
The lecture, given to a small group of ministers and laypersons Thursday morning at First Church of God, was the first in a series of "Conversation Forums" offered by Toledo Area Ministries, an ecumenical Christian network of 165 churches.
Mr. Rogers, 52, who served as a pastor for 20 years before heading Cherry Street's homeless ministry in 2001, said churches must stop focusing just on fixing societal problems and start using a portion of their resources to prevent the issues from arising.
He used the popular "upstream/downstream" metaphor in saying that a long list of society's ills - including homelessness, drug addiction, illiteracy, divorce, and teen pregnancy - are downstream problems that can consume virtually all of a church's time, energy, and resources.
Rather than getting "sucked into the vortex" of these downstream woes, Mr. Rogers said, churches also must turn upstream and serve as the "delivery system" for the "antidote" - the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The solution requires an "and-both" effort, not "either-or," he emphasized.
He pointed out that Cherry Street's ministries provided housing to 292 "guests" on Wednesday night, compared to 57 per night in 2002. As CEO of the organization, he is glad it is effective. "But all the good stuff is tied to bad stuff. Ask me how I feel as a Christian. Ask me how I feel as a citizen. I am alarmed. I am alarmed!"
Mr. Rogers believes the Phillip Project, which he devised after years of analyzing the situation and searching for solutions, could turn society around in 12 to 15 years if only two or three people per church started working upstream.
The headwaters of this metaphorical stream are the parents, he said. Churches must do a better job in helping parents improve themselves. Too often churches and other organizations focus solely on what a parent can do for a child, not on the parent's own well-being.
In Mr. Rogers' terminology, churches should tell parents that "we don't give a rip about your kids, we care about you." The parents would then be receptive to what Christians are saying.
In the same way, when people in need come to the Cherry Street Mission, the staff focuses on "who" they are and not "what" they are.
"Before they were homeless, they were a man or a woman," he said.
For information on the Phillip Project, call the Rev. Dan Rogers at Cherry Street Mission Ministries, 419-242-5141, or Toledo Area Ministries, 419-241-7401.
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