by Susan Brown
Many pastors begin their ministries like a starting quarterback: full of passion and heart, ready to drive to the finish line, determined to change the world, or at least their communities. Then reality hits. They are alone, facing overwhelming needs, short of time, training and teammates. That’s where Connections Ministry comes into play.
Founder and President Clayton Hays knows what it means to be without resources. More importantly, he knows where to find them. His mission is to connect people and churches across denominational, cultural and economic lines to reach people for Christ and help them grow into disciples who will do the same.
He learned a hard lesson early in his own ministry at a small church in Atlanta, Ga. “Honestly, I was a young pastor, I was right out of seminary, and there was a lot I didn’t know,” he says. “I knew what I wanted to do but I didn’t know how to do it, how to get it carried out. So I imagined there are pastors in Baton Rouge in that same situation.” His exploration of neighborhood churches around the Gardere community and old south Baton Rouge confirmed his theory.
“I’ve just seen how many of the churches are small, and the pastors are untrained. I think a number of the pastors are great folks, great men, who have a great heart for the Lord and great desire to do ministry. But many of them are not only untrained, they’re bi-vocational.”
While some small, inner city churches may be trying to cope with limited finances and staff, larger churches across town – or sometimes within blocks – are sitting on a gold mine, Hays says.
“We have people sitting in the pews who have been involved with church for decades. They’re trained in some aspect of church ministry but may be underused for one reason or another.”
Churches are increasingly rising to the challenge. Dr. Bartholomew M. Riggins, a member of the Connections Ministry board and pastor of Faith Chapel on Staring Lane, is fulfilling his dream of starting a leadership training institute for pastors. Connections Ministry helped pave the way, linking Riggins with former Chapel on the Campus pastor Dennis Eenigenberg of Equipping Network, a ministry that trains Third World pastors for ministry, especially in Uganda. Together, they are developing leadership for small groups and marriage seminars.
In April, Connections Ministry helped coordinate the Baton Rouge Sports Initiative, spearheaded by M.L. Woodruff, sports outreach minister at Istrouma Baptist Church. The one-day free multi-sports clinics featured instruction in football, basketball, baseball and soccer at four sites. Thirteen local churches collected new and used athletic equipment and provided instruction.
“What we hope is this once a year outreach would become a catalyst for ongoing sports ministries led by the churches in those neighborhoods,” Hays says. “The point is not the sport, the point is to develop relationships with the kids.”
But neighborhood churches face the challenge of finding people to keep sports ministry programs going. “They might be thinking, ‘sure that’s a great idea but we don’t have the people to do that,’” Hays says. “We just have a shortage of volunteers who have the time to show up weekly. We need solid, godly people who have a heart for them.”
Hays believes that community-based, cooperative ministry will resonate with communities. He finds assurance in Psalm 46:10. “Lord, you say you are going to be exalted in the earth and that’s what we want to see happen. You’re going to make that happen.”
(For more information, visit connectionsministry.com)