Lewis Begins ‘Holy Detective Work’

Andy LewisNew director of Missional Outreach is uncovering effective ministries that others can copy

It is one of those golden moments at the end of a hot summer day.

You and a group of friends have worked all day on someone’s house. Everyone’s tired, but it’s that good kind of tired as you share the collective pride of a job well done and helping your pals out. A couple of the guys just made a soda run, and from the trunk of their junker they break out every flavor of Fanta you can imagine.

And as you reach for a cool drink, you have an epiphany.

That’s what happened when Rev. Andy Lewis, then a new youth pastor, realized the difference between mission “to” and mission “with” people. The epiphany struck as he prepared to lead a prayer over a new house in Juárez, Mexico, that his mission-trip group and neighborhood residents constructed along with the family who would live there.

“I might have imagined that we [the mission group] would build the house,” Rev. Lewis said. “We went with a willingness, but the truth of the matter was we didn’t know how to do it well.”

Instead, the youth, the family and local craftsmen, serving as “maestros” teaching their young charges, worked alongside each other under the auspices of Proyecto Abrigo, a housing program in Juárez.

Today, Rev. Lewis — as the new director of the North Texas Conference Center for Missional Outreach — brings that sensibility to his job.

He already has embarked on “holy detective work,” tracking down local churches whose missional outreach is so effective and creative that it can serve as a model for others. He expects replicating those efforts will prove more productive than coming up with a top-down initiative from his center.

The Wesley-Rankin Community Center, which reaches out to West Dallas with programs for impoverished families and is known for its childhood education, is among the ministries that have impressed him — focusing on “relational ministry, not just transactional” and the partnerships it has developed with other nonprofits and businesses.

By connecting local churches with a ministry such as Wesley-Rankin and providing them a pattern to follow, the Center for Missional Outreach sees the opportunity to spread the reach of United Methodists.

He also points to the work of the Revs. Rachel Baughman and Wes Magruder with Syrian refugees, fleeing civil war in what Rev. Lewis calls the “great humanitarian crisis of our time.”

“One of the opportunities that the CMO has is to equip the church to feel confident to be prophetic — someone who fearlessly speaks on behalf of God even when God’s truth makes the listener uncomfortable,” he said.

In taking over the leadership of the Center for Missional Outreach, Rev. Lewis was surprised at how widespread the operation is: working with the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR); short-term and long-term disaster relief; global ministry; ecumenical relations; work with the homeless or impoverished through the Zip Code Connection, CitySquare and Dallas Bethlehem Center; helping immigrants through Justice for Our Neighbors — the list goes on.

“What I’ve learned is there is a natural connection between mission and evangelism,” he said.

“Evangelism offers a witness to who we are and to who Christ is that can open doors to conversations that can help make disciples. It offers the witness that can soften hearts and give us an opportunity for God to work through us to introduce someone to a relationship to God and Jesus Christ.”

Mile Markers

The Rev. Andy Lewis has brought something from each stop in his career leading to director of the Center of Missional Outreach. Here are some of the lessons.

White Rock UMC: Rev. Lewis got a first-hand look at an inner-ring suburban church in a neighborhood transitioning to a “much more urban and diverse environment.” White Rock was “beginning to grapple with what that means for ministry.”

First UMC Richardson: Here — at a large, affluent, suburban church — he developed his heart for cross-cultural mission trips, taking youth outside their comfort zone to the Rio Grande Valley and to Juárez, Mexico, just across the border from El Paso. He teamed up with Proyecto Abrigo, a group building cinder block houses for families in Juárez.

Wesley UMC Greenville: Rev. Lewis encountered a town divided by Interstate 30 — black residents to the north, whites to the south … and the two rarely mixing. It bothered Rev. Lewis, who grew up in First UMC Plano. He teamed up with a white Baptist church and two black churches to create a youth ministry team, MOB, for Mission: Our Backyard. MOB took an in-town mission trip, the youths living together in a retreat center, taking turns leading worship and working on homes in the daytime. It helped break down racial barriers and correct misperceptions.

Church planter: Rev. Lewis said his five years as a church planter “taught me to see everything I do and [what] the church does through the lens of making disciples for Jesus Christ.”

Holy Covenant, Carrollton: “The church was founded with a clear emphasis on justice,” Rev. Lewis said. “It gave me room to learn how to speak to important and controversial issues and gave me permission to really lift up a biblical vision of righteousness and justice and do that in bold and prophetic ways.” It drove home the connection of church and contemporary society, he said.

First UMC Lewisville: Lewisville had changed dramatically from a burgeoning suburb to a diverse city racially and socioeconomically, Rev. Lewis said. But the church “had done the hard work of recognizing those changes instead of denying them or running away,” he said, and was ready for “bold experiments.” In addition to One + One tutoring with schoolchildren, church members forged a partnership with Chin refugees, a little-known ethnic group that had fled persecution in Myanmar. They mentored Chin families in American culture, launched a furniture ministry and advocated for repairs at apartments where the families lived.

Published: Tuesday, September 26, 2017