Why Our Church Adopted a School

Does serving our neighbor and blessing our community have a role in evangelism, or is it a time- and resource-wasting distraction?

To be clear, Jesus established the church’s mission in Acts 1:8: “You shall be my witnesses.” Witnesses have a message to tell. The focus of our ministry, therefore, is not what we do for the world, but what Jesus has done for it. To lose sight of that is to lose sight of the gospel itself.

Yet a compelling witness often requires tangible demonstrations of the power of what is being witnessed to. Jesus and the apostles gave “signs” of the gospel as a regular part of their preaching. These signs were more than awe-inspiring magic tricks; they were “miracles with a message.” In the same way, our humble spirit, our gentle conduct, and our extravagant generosity should all point to the redeeming, life-transforming power of the gospel, driving observers to ask, “Why?” The apostle Peter urged his readers to “adorn” the gospel by their conduct to such an extent that it drove observers to ask about its cause (1 Pet. 2:12-3:17).


In 2004, God convicted our church that we were not displaying the generosity of the gospel to our community. I was teaching through the book of Acts, and we came to Acts 8:6-8: “The crowds paid attention with one mind to what Philip said, as they heard and saw the signs he was performing . . . so there was much joy in that city.” So I asked our church if there was “much joy” in the city as a result of our presence there.

Then I read the story in Acts 9 about Tabitha, who had the toughest nickname of the New Testament, “Dorcas.” She had done so many good works and acts of charity that when she died a group of widows gathered at her bedside and wept. “If the Summit Church ‘died,'” I asked, “would needy people weep because we were gone?”

We believed the answer to both of these questions was “no.” If anything, our community may have been excited that we were gone because they would regain access to our tax-exempt property and get one less Easter inviter card cluttering their mailbox.

We resolved that with God’s help we would become a blessing to our city—to demonstrate Christ’s love to them, to bring his healing to the places in our city that needed him most.


Shortly thereafter, God brought to our attention an underperforming public elementary school in the inner city. It was the worst-ranked school in our county and was on track to be shut down within two years.

Over the next several years we led several innovative projects for that school. Many of our people started tutoring children. Small groups adopted classrooms and teachers, housed refugees, and met physical needs of families in the school. One soon-to-be-married couple in our church asked that any gifts for their marriage be redirected to a family in the school whose house had been destroyed in a fire.

As that first year ended, the principal asked if we would pray for her kids during the end-of-year exams because the school would be evaluated chiefly by their scores. We gladly obliged.

By the fourth year of our involvement, the school had the highest percentage of kids pass their end-of-year exams of any school in the county. And the principal officially credited the church’s efforts with helping to improve the school’s academic performance. [1] At a subsequent teacher’s banquet, one of the teachers said, “I have always known you Christians believed you should love your neighbor, but I’ve never known what it looked like until now.”


In 2010 I was invited to speak at our city’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. rally. It is a significant event in our city. It is televised, and all city and county government officials attend. They asked me simply to explain why we thought it was important to love our community.

Just before the program started, I stood backstage as nervous as Joel Osteen would be at Together for the Gospel. The county manager, sensing my anxiety, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “J. D., do you know why you’ve been asked to speak today?”

I said, “No, and if you could tell me I’d really appreciate it, because I’m super nervous.”

He said, “Everywhere in our city we find a need, we also find people from the Summit Church meeting that need. We couldn’t think of anyone to better embody the spirit of brotherly love in our city than you all at the Summit Church.”

In front of our entire city government, I explained that our church’s generosity was a response to the radical generosity of Christ toward us. Christ had done for us what we could not do for ourselves, so how could we not extend that to those in need? When I finished, the school board, mayor, and city council gave a standing ovation.

Substantiating the Preached Message

Don’t misunderstand: gospel words and gospel deeds do not always yield applause. Much of the time, in fact, they produce just the opposite. Jesus promised we would have trouble in this world for following him. Still, there is a simple lesson here: gospel-driven works substantiate the preached message. They make it visible and understandable. They create a thirst for it. Our generosity provides us with an opportunity to proclaim the gospel.

Our kindness to the people of our city is, of course, only a dim shadow of Jesus’ great kindness to us. But I believe it has helped people in our city understand more of what Jesus is like. It has helped create more hunger in Raleigh-Durham for the gospel.

The work of the local church is to proclaim the gospel and makes disciples. But the effective witness of Christians must contain both word and deed. Without word, there is no gospel. Without deed, we fail to confirm our testimony with our lives. As Francis Schaeffer famously said, the love on display in and through the church is Christ’s “final apologetic” to a skeptical world.

Editors’ note: This article originally appeared in the July-August issue of the 9Marks Journal, “Mercy Ministry in the Church.”

1. ”Church Efforts Earn Family Status at Elementary School,” Biblical Recorder, vol. 175 no. 19 (12 September 2009), 7.

  • Rob

    Awesome story.

  • Ron

    Only thing to note about this: I know of good pastors who have taken on dual school headmaster responsibilities and have seen how this has a dire and draining effect on their ability to be both pastor/shepherds and also good theologians.

  • http://www.dare2share.org Gwen Doherty

    Hi JD. We at Dare 2 Share Ministries really enjoyed this article and felt that it could be an encouragement to youth leaders. we sould like to ask your permission to repost this story on our blog. The blog post would like back to this article and give you, JD, credit for writing the post. Please email me your response. Thank you and God bless.

  • Caleb

    I applaud your efforts. How sad, however, that so many evangelicals favor home or private schooling, thereby separating themselves from their communities. Or that many support politicians with no interest in public education or any vibrant public service for that matter. It helps to create the conditions that your church needed to address.

    • http://www.everybodyelse.etsy.com Melody

      Caleb, come on – how does home schooling keep people from helping out their neighbors through a ministry like this?

      It might actually improve their ability to do it – they know a lot about what’s needed for a good education, they care deeply about good education, and they’re pretty good at tutoring too.

      • Caleb

        Melody, I may have been unfair to make a generalization. I didn’t mean to say they couldn’t help their neighbors in a ministry like this. I meant to say that they help to perpetuate (by no means am I saying they are the sole or even a major cause) problems with public schools that then creates the need for ministries like this. They keep good kids from stable families out of public schools – something that public schools need. They also make it more difficult for themselves to be involved in the school. If you have a kid there, it is much easier.

        But in my experience, homeschoolers are pretty isolated from their communities and pretty fearful of evil ‘public schools.’ My parents also took a lot of flack for putting their kids in public school, but they were able to develop sincere personal relationships around real shared interests – the education of their children, school sports, school fundraisers, school trips with teachers and other parents, etc. that homeschoolers did not have access to. I also know that I received a far more well-rounded educational experience as a result of being in a public school. That is not to say that homeschoolers can’t offer a well-rounded experience – but it seems more rare.

        Of course I am biased towards the value of a vibrant public education system – a rarity among the evangelicals that I know.

        • http://www.everybodyelse.etsy.com Melody

          Well, if it’s a choice between their children’s education and/or well-being and having a vibrant public school system…the Bible does command us to take care of our families first.

    • Brian

      If I had kids they would be home-schooled, and they would wear helmets when riding a bike. Any parents that love their children are always looking out for what’s best for them. That normal and good in ever way.

      • Caleb

        Melody and Brian – I agree that parents should look out for their families. Where we disagree is in the idea that homeschooling is better for children. There are some rare exceptions where that might be the case. But from the results I’ve seen, I don’t think it is generally the case.

        • Walt

          Caleb, I think you are absolutely right. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a public school educator. The alarming trend in evangelical circles has been to flee from public school, mostly (I think) out of fear.

          I understand the need to protect and nurture our children. This, of course, should happen at home. We need to teach our children how to live godly lives so that when they engage in the culture (through school and, subsequently, jobs and the rest of life) they can be a shining light.

          I don’t necessarily think that homeschooling is bad — I just think that there is no correct “Christian” choice. We do what is best for our children and community based on the needs of our children and community.

  • http://www.waulkthisway.com Joshua Waulk

    We just planted a church in an inner-city neighborhood in the Tampa Bay area. The culture of the neighborhood is in many ways starkly different from the white suburbs. We have a T1 school about a stone’s throw away from us, and we’re finding it to be a central rallying point for families. Befriending the principal, showing ourselves to be servants of people is being warmly received, and relationships are beginning to sprout. Any ideas on how to move from giving away school supplies to actually making established contacts?

  • Pingback: Reformed Theology and Ragged Schools | HeadHeartHand Blog()

  • Brian

    If you started all of the because of what you read in Acts 8:6 (which is simple descriptive, BTW), I wonder what you could accomplish with this verse: “And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Mark 13:13

    The world will never love us when we truly follow Christ command to: a) Make disciples b) baptise them c) teach them to obey

    Sure you can get ovations when you give stuff to people – when you meet needs (which I’m not saying we completely avoid) . A perfect example is found in the crowds that followed Jesus because the were having material needs met, but when He spoke some words that were a bit tough to digest, they turned and walked away, and when He made plain who He was and what He came to do, they killed him.

    Giving all grace and no truth can make you a lot of friends. Giving all truth and no grace can make you a lot of (personal) enemies, but giving the truth in love, in the name of Jesus, will get you persecuted and possibly killed.

    • Walt

      Come on, Brian. Don’t be ridiculous. So, this church shouldn’t have gotten involved with the community? Should we as Christians ignore the needs of those who are lost because if we help them they may actually start to LIKE us?!

      Perhaps, maybe this church just decided to act in love toward their neighbors, not because they wanted to receive “ovations” for charity, but because they took seriously Jesus’ command to love their neighbors. I’m sure that many in this community who were hostile to the gospel now have an example of the Body of Christ acting in love — the way we are supposed to act.

  • Walt

    And I’m not sure how things like tutoring and prayer can be classified as just “giving stuff away.” Please elaborate.

  • Pingback: Welcome to XYZ Church. How can we help you? | Pastor Greg Martin()