In my previous pastorates, I have been blessed to minister to people from all walks of life. While most of our churches are composed of people that are similar in race, background, lifestyle, etc., there is a world full of people that do not look like the average church member. These individuals are usually characterized by their problems, such as an addiction, a criminal history, broken relationships, and/or any other possibilities. Most churches have not been successful in reaching such individuals, largely due to the fact that they are not trying to reach them.
It has been my experience that churches will give anyone a chance once they come to church. But what about those that do not believe they will be welcome in a church or are afraid that someone will recognize their name from the arrest report in the local paper? Just as war is won by what happens in the trenches, Christians must engage in ministry in the trenches, where it is dirty and things are not always in the correct order.
As you minister in the trenches, here are some things that I have learned:
First, call people to surrender to Christ. People in the trenches often want change but they do not know how. They have tried rehabs, counseling, 12-step programs (all of which have an important role), but the first step must be to surrender their life to the lordship of Christ. If we offer other suggestions, we are only dealing with symptoms, not the real disease.
Second, prepare to get messy. You will see things in the trenches that are not accepted. There will be words said that have no place coming out of any mouth. Some of what you say will not be accepted. You might be treated harshly. It comes with the territory, but do not let the mess keep you from experiencing the rewards.
Yes, there will be rewards. There will be victories; lives will be changed. Battles will be won. People will overcome sins that have marked their family for years. Relationships will be restored. People will place their trust in Christ and experience the promise of Heaven. When you minister in the trenches, you store up treasures in Heaven (Matthew 6:20). I have found ministry in the trenches to be some of the most fulfilling ministry I have ever experienced.
Last, do not give up on the ministry or an individual. The alcoholic may relapse and disappoint you. A relationship you helped mend might have more difficulty. You will invest in people and the return may not be sudden. Do not let the disappointments cause you to give up on an individual or even give up on ministry in the trenches completely.
Ministry opportunities in the trenches surround us. Many churches are located on high spot in the trench and the people walk through the trenches to get to church but never minister to those around them. It is time to get dirty.