A Search for Kingdom Churches – Northminster Church Part I

“In John 14:12 Jesus states that “anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to the father.” In order to achieve Christ’s lofty vision for His church, we must become missional in our mindset, holistic in our approach, and transformational in our impact. Many churches need a new framework if they are to become transformational in their communities.”

This quote is from a study called “Operation: Restoration” which is available at the Communities First Association website. This quote captures the essence of what I shared in my post “A Search for Kingdom Churches” which I published last June.  At the time I wrote this post, I asked for people to help me find churches that:

  1. Seek to release their people and resources out into the world instead of consuming them for their own needs.
  2. Are truly investing in the kingdom for the long-haul as a way of life, not simply doing missions events.
  3. Do more than give money or stuff, but that build relationships that are transforming not only the city, but also the church.
  4. Support Kingdom work without getting the credit or having some other ulterior motive like recruitment of church members.

Over the years, I have had countless people share with me that Northminster Church was this kind of kingdom focused church.  Like many urban church’s in the city of Richmond, Northminster, suffered the ravages of “white flight” as church members fled the city for the suburbs. Ten years ago, the church was primarily a commuter church made up largely of middle class white suburbanites who only ventured into this low income largely African American community for worship once a week.  Over the past ten years, this church has made the journey from being a church “in” the community, to doing ministry “for” the community, to being a church that does ministry “with” the community.

This is a story of transformation that I think will give hope to many urban churches.  It is a story that involved not just one person, but the whole body pulling together to change a community from the inside out and in the process transform a church.  Over the next several weeks, I will be sharing with you how God used ordinary people who possess a kingdom perspective to usher in the reconciling Kingdom of God here on earth.  I am sure all my friends at Northminster will agree, they are still on a journey but I think we can glean a lot from their story thus far.

This past week when I met Sammy Williams, Senior Pastor of Northminster Church, he pointed me in the direction of Jeanne Murdock and said that the transformation at Northminster started with Jeanne.  I had the privilege sharing a cup of coffee with Jeanne.  What follows is her story.

Ten years ago, Jeanne joined the staff of Northminster Baptist Church as the office manager.  One of her duties involved giving out food to those who contacted the church for assistance.  At that time the food pantry was rather small and seen as an auxiliary ministry but God gave Jeanne a vision for something more – something relational in nature.  She shared her vision for expanding the food pantry and having it open one Saturday per month with several people she hoped would run with it.  However, it kept coming back to her. It took a while, but Jeanne finally accepted God’s call.

Her first challenge was to secure space. The perfect room for her expanded food pantry was being used for storing what Jeanne termed “junk” that had accumulated over the life of the church – things like hymnals from the 1970’s, old Sunday school curriculum, broken furniture.  Jeanne overcame this first obstacle but not without some resistance.  She set up her new food pantry and was surprised when 12 people came on the first Saturday for food.

From the very beginning, Jeanne’s husband Buzz was at her side.  Initially, Buzz, a retired police officer, came to insure her safety.  However, as word spread about the food pantry, Buzz realized that people were walking miles to come and he began offering rides home.  That is where the real relationships began to take shape.

Within five years, the ministry had grown to every Saturday and was serving roughly 50 households every Saturday.  Over the years, VCU students had become the primary volunteer base.  One Saturday, Jeanne was running low on volunteers and one of the individuals who had come for food, Keith Parker, said “Looks like you need help”, and jumped right in.  From that day forward, Keith never missed a Saturday.  As Jeanne watched Keith come alive as he served his neighbors, she heard God saying “Give it away.”  She asked Keith to take over as the distribution manager and was thrilled when he began recruiting other community residents to help. He was from the neighborhood and was able to easily connect with the food pantry residents who gladly joined in.   Jeanne did not know it, but the day Keith crossed over from receiving to giving was the day God began a whole new chapter in not only her ministry but the life of the church.

Keith and Buzz became fast friends. Buzz discovered that Keith had lost his driver’s license, was dealing with substance abuse, and had become homeless.  When Keith made the decision to enter The Healing Place, Buzz committed to pick him up every Saturday so he could continue to volunteer at the food bank.  Keith graduated from The Healing Place and has been clean and sober every since.  He now speaks to groups around the city and mentors other addicts.

As Jeanne watched the ministry  grow and more and more residents joining in to help, she longed to see deeper relationships form.  In 2007, she had the idea of setting up a lemonade and cookie station so people could fellowship with one another during the distribution.  She shared the idea with Terri, a fellow member of the church, who loved the idea.  Terri was so excited about the idea that she shared it with Cassie Matthew her next door neighbor.  Though Cassie was not a church member, Jeanne welcomed her to join in the effort.

Cassie took the idea and ran.  She started not only putting out refreshments but began bringing in gently used clothing and other items that she and her friends wanted to give away.  As Cassie saw how grateful the food pantry recipients were to get the clothing and other items, God gave Cassie a vision for what she called a “Free Market” – basically a church yard sale where everything was free.  Christmas time 2008, Northminster hosted the first “Free Market.” The event was so successful that it has become a monthly event.

As Cassie was launching the “Free Market”, Jeanne was grieving the loss of her husband Buzz.  Jeanne realized that she would have to take a huge step back for a season but was thrilled that the food pantry would continue with community residents now running all aspects of the program.

This is the end of Jeanne’s story but the beginning of Cassie’s adventure.  I hope you will join me for Part II of this series next week.

Is your church a Kingdom Church?

Please share how your church is transforming your city by empowering under-resourced communities to meet their own needs.

Interested in becoming a Kingdom focused church?

Embrace Richmond is thrilled that Jay Van Groningen, the Executive Director of Communities First Association will be coming to Richmond.  Please join Jay and the Embrace Richmond team on May 26th – May 28th to learn more about Asset Based Community Development and how these principals are sparking a movement of community transformation and church renewal across this country.  To learn more about this opportunity, contact me at wendy@embracerichmond.org or watch the Embrace Richmond website for more information in the coming weeks.


Filed under Community Development, missional church, Stories from the Street

2 responses to “A Search for Kingdom Churches – Northminster Church Part I

  1. Pingback: A Search for Kingdom Churches: Northminster Part 2 – Cassie’s Story | Wendy McCaig

  2. Pingback: A Church Resurrected: Interview with Pastor Sammy Williams (Northminister- Part 3) | Wendy McCaig

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