Charlotte Rubush's rendezvous with the Lord, via Ministry Evangelism, started in June 1995 when she fled to Florida with her boyfriend and two children to escape prosecution of drug-related felony charges.
However, because of continued drug use, she was arrested again, and lost custody of her children as a result. Charlotte was released in December '95 and placed on two years probation, but continued to struggle with her addiction. She and her boyfriend found themselves working day labor to pay for their motel and drugs.
"I remember crying myself to sleep every night, not wanting to go on like this, and desperately missing my children," she said.
A friend suggested she seek help from the Women's Care Center at First Baptist Church of Leesburg, but she initially rejected the idea. Yet, as her desperation grew, she found herself at the front door of WCC in May 1996.
"I will never forget the sense of peace that I felt while waiting in the living room to meet with the director," Charlotte said. "That feeling was so intense that I knew everything was going to be all right."
Pastor Charles Roesel has a vision for First Church of Leesburg. He sees a Christian campus with church members so spiritually equipped that anytime someone sets foot on the property, regardless of the need — physical, emotional or spiritual — it will be met.
For thirteen years now, Roesel has been leading the Leesburg church around the slogan, "The Church That Cares." Roesel believes the biblical basis for what he calls "ministry evangelism" is found in Matthew 25. He says it calls Christians not to a life of ease, but one of sacrifice and service.
To that end, 1,400-plus volunteer positions in eighty-two different ministries are "filled by God's people" from the Leesburg congregation. The church recently completed its Ministry Village, which includes two new buildings for the church's Rescue Mission for men and its Women's Shelter. Those two ministries, dating from 1982 and 1989, respectively, previously were operated in houses the church purchased across the street from its main facilities.
Additional Ministry Village facilities house the church's Pregnancy Care Center, Children's Rescue Shelter, and Teen Home, as well as the furniture barn, clothing closet, and food pantry. Now completed, the entire project cost $2.2 million.
"All the money was raised without a campaign," Roesel said. "The Holy Spirit raised the money." In October 1994, Roesel said he "shared the vision and the money started coming in." One Sunday that month the church observed a Miracle Sunday Offering that brought in $1.1 million.
"The Holy Spirit was raising the money (and) I wasn't going to interfere with what He was doing," Roesel said. "I told the church members, 'Nobody is going to contact you (about the project).' I've learned never to ask if we (the church) can afford it. That's the wrong question. Ask instead, 'Is it God's will?' If it's God's will, He can afford it."
As a result, the new Ministry Village is totally debt-free. Last year the Leesburg church's members gave $1,000 a day to missions and $1,800 a day to ministry needs.
For nearly fifteen years, the church's Christian Care Center, Inc. — a non-profit corporation — has helped thousands of men, women, children and families get through the trauma of homelessness, poverty, abuse, neglect, abandonment, hunger, and crisis pregnancies. The ministry, which initially operated in old, renovated houses in Leesburg, has been able to expand its facilities and services through the Ministry Village, built on a city-block area on the church campus.
Specifically, more than 1,200 children have come through the Children's Shelter; over 1,000 women a year come to the Pregnancy Care Center; over 300 men a year are served through the Rescue Mission; more than 200 women and children have been helped by the Women's Center; and the benevolent ministries — furniture barn, clothing closet and food pantry — assist over 5,000 people a year.
"If we're going reach this world for Christ, there are three things that are absolutely imperative," Roesel said. "First, we'll have to be willing to do some new things." For example, he pointed out, the Leesburg church has started a Saturday Sunday School that reaches anywhere from 200 to 400 people each Saturday.
"Secondly, we must do the old things unusually well," he said. "When we start doing new things, it seems like we always want to throw out the old." Roesel said his church has gone back to a two-week Vacation Bible School averaging more than 2,000 children enrolled each year.
"Third, we must loose the laity," Roesel said. "Our churches today are dying from staff infection. Every time there's a job to do we feel like we have to hire someone to do it. There are lay men and women by the hundreds eager to do something for the Lord if we will just loose them for the glory of Christ."
Roesel said that through ministry evangelism his church's laity has taken on much of the responsibility for the ministries and "have freed me to preach, pray, and equip the saints for ministry."
Southern Baptist leaders are using Leesburg First Church as a model for ministry evangelism (ME). Roesel has traveled in over thirty states — including Hawaii and Alaska — sharing his ME concepts in conferences, seminaries and churches. He has taught ministry-based evangelism during the North American Mission Board's church growth conferences at both Ridgecrest and Glorieta Conference Centers. And, Roesel has even traveled to Canada and the Bahamas to teach ME principles among Baptists there.
The Sunday School Board has planned four national ministry conferences each year at the Leesburg church. In addition, SSB personnel will lead four Kingdom conferences across the nation each year that will tie into ministry-based evangelism.
"People come here and see everything we do and are overwhelmed," said Art Ayris, the church's minister of evangelism and ministry as well as the CCC administrator. "But we started right where we were. We tell them to feel the needs necessary to minister in their community and start right where they are.
"Now we have the Ministry Village but each of these ministries began in an old house. We put the ministries in there and ministered to people out of those houses. Our suggestion to others is to start where you are. Give food out of a closet in your church. Work with women and children in the locations where they are."
Roesel said his church members used the Life Series from the Sunday School Board, which he called "one of the best ever" to come out of Nashville.
But, "For some of the ministries (the church is now doing), there's not a place to go, so we've just had to learn the hard way," he said.
First Church members began putting down on paper what they had learned as a result of doing ministry. Those experiences and principles were written in a manual on ministry evangelism. And, a book Roesel co-authored with Donald Atkinson titled, Meeting Needs, Sharing Christ: Ministry Evangelism in Today's New Testament Church, was released in 1995 by LifeWay Press in Nashville. The book is being translated into Portuguese for use in Brazil.
Still on the drawing board is a hospitality house where people from other churches can stay while observing the work in the Ministry Village. That idea was born out of the church's annual ME conferences. People attend from all over the United States. Now the congregation has been designated a "teaching church" by the Florida Baptist Convention where people can learn first-hand how to do ministry evangelism.
Roesel says ME is a "passion for the lost and a purpose for the church." He described the "beauty of ministry evangelism" as "a bullet that fits any gun. Even the smallest church can reach out through ministry. The church may not be able to welcome the whole city with 10,000 loaves of bread, but it can have one person welcome one person with one loaf."
The Leesburg church's ministry book lists over 100 ministries that churches can do. Roesel said churches not involved in ME "are missing the Privilege — the most effective way ever seen for reaching people for Jesus Christ."
And, Leesburg's First Church is definitely reaching people. Over the last seven years, the church has averaged more than 300 baptisms a year.
"Twenty years ago we would have been criticized" for the emphasis on social concerns, Roesel said, "because it would have been called the 'social gospel,' which was all social and no gospel. But this is not the old 'social gospel' — this is ministry evangelism. I exist for evangelism as fire exists for burning. Every single ministry we do has the goal of reaching hurting people with the gospel of Jesus Christ."
Roesel calls the needs in Leesburg "exhausting." Prior to the church's emphasis on ministry-based evangelism, the congregation had "blitzed, surveyed, done everything we could do" to get prospects. The pastor said more church people were involved in weekly visitation than they had prospects to visit.
"But once we became involved in ministry evangelism, we had people coming out of the woodwork — coming from everywhere," he said. "Whatever the ministry, it's just amazing the needs.
"We have a cross-section of every problem found in the United States. No area is immune anymore. We may be in the 'Bible Belt' but Satan is having a heyday. I've never seen so many hurting people. As long as you minister to hurting people, you'll never lack for an audience.
"It's amazing that in a town the size of Leesburg that we have this much work to do. There's not a place — town, village, one-store country place — that doesn't have the problems we have right here.
Roesel said that God "began laying on my heart nearly twenty years ago" the concept of ministry evangelism. He has been pastor of the Leesburg church for twenty-two years.
"God orchestrated the whole thing," Roesel said. "At first I didn't know what was going on — some need would crop up and we would meet it. Then I saw what God was doing, and the vision became almost an obsession with me."
Roesel called trained leaders the key to ministry. He said a seminary student once asked him what was the "greatest mistake" he had ever made. "A thousand things came to mind," Roesel remembered, "but God gave me and him the same answer at the same time.
"The greatest mistake I ever made was when I had the idea that I was the only one who was able to do anything. On the other hand, the greatest move was when I stepped aside and let the laymen do what they could do far better than I could.
"I've never seen anything explode like this," he said of the church's ministry. "It's just awesome. God has raised up the staff through and from the congregation."
Roesel admits that some church members initially resisted the idea of reaching undesirables in society. There were those who said, "These aren't our kind of people." Others said, "I don't like to have my wife walk by these kind of people to get into the church."
But Roesel said those attitudes changed about eighteen years ago.
"Now I'm afraid to mention a ministry unless I mean business because the people will automatically go for it," he said. For instance, Roesel said he was "just testing the waters" on ministry to people with AIDS when "the deacons came with a unanimous voice, saying, 'If this comes up in our community, let's go for it.'" Likewise, a drug rehabilitation center is also in the works.
The two newest projects in which the Leesburg church has become involved are a school of fine arts and a hospital ministry.
The fine arts ministry teaches everything from violin to creative movement. "It reaches a cross-section of the city since we have started the only fine arts school in the area," Roesel said. "We have many people bringing their children, providing just another opportunity for a gospel witness."
Roesel said the city hospital called the church offering a registered nurse and malpractice insurance if the congregation would furnish a facility. That medical care ministry has been going a year now. The church is investigating the possibility of building a new clinic in its Ministry Village, staffed by two nurses.
"This may become the pilot project for ministry of this type across the nation because it's a 'win-win' situation," Roesel said. "It saves the hospital a small fortune because we can provide care for ten cents on the dollar, and it provides us the opportunity to bear witness to everyone who comes. We're meeting the medical needs of transients and those who can't afford hospital care."
Roesel said the hospital called the church because the administrators "knew we care about people." He said that's how ministry "literally explodes."
"From Genesis to the Revelation, the theme is ministry evangelism," Roesel said. "If you want that which will reach people for Jesus Christ, sweeten your fellowship, and double your budget, then give yourself away through ministry evangelism."
After moving into the Women's Care Center, Charlotte Rubush started attending AA meetings, and found a full-time job at an assisted living facility for Alzheimer patients. Things were going well until her boyfriend started showing up at work. As a result, she lost her job, and relapsed into her drug use.
After three days, Charlotte returned to the Center, where, instead of condemnation and rejection, she found mercy and grace.
Subsequently, Charlotte gave her life to Jesus, and has remained "clean" since. She also began to regularly attend FBC Leesburg. Over the next few months she went through additional drug rehabilitation and secured steady employment. The administrator at the assisted living facility who had fired her, called and offered another full-time position. Charlotte has since been promoted to resident director, and placed in charge of resident care and personnel.
"There have been so many blessings," she noted. "After nine months, I moved out of the Center and into my own apartment. I attended financial counseling classes at FBC and was able to payoff the mountain of fines and debts I had accumulated.
"I have a car that was donated by a member of FBC, and my children will be coming to live with me when school is out this summer.
"Today, I am drug free, debt free, and spiritually free … and he whom Christ sets free is free indeed!"
Charlotte came to the Lord through the Ministry Evangelism of FBC Leesburg, and she has since become very active in the church's outreach. She teaches a weekly Bible study at the Women's Care Center and relieves the house mother when she needs time off. Charlotte also serves as treasurer and outreach worker at the Highway Church, a cross-cultural ministry of FBC. In addition, Charlotte volunteers with the Child Care Ministry of FBC on Sunday mornings.
"I can never express the love and gratitude I feel for FBC and the WCC," Charlotte said. "The love and support I have received over the past two years is extraordinary.
"But most of all I am grateful to God for His love and the gift of life, my salvation. I give the Lord the glory for the changes in my life because I know they came to me only because of Him."For more information on Ministry Evangelism Training Seminars, contact Joseph Northcut at 615.251.5624 or e-mail at [email protected]
Ready In Season and Out
When Charles Roesel moved to his new neighborhood almost two years ago, he didn't plan on using leaf removal as an evangelistic tool. But his approach to evangelizing through ministry led to such an opportunity.
Shortly after settling into his new home, Roesel discovered that the neighbors who lived behind him were skeptical in their view of organized religion, and were particularly resistant to the claims of Christianity.
During casual conversation with his neighbor, he noticed leaves had collected on their roof. "Oh that's easy to explain," she responded in her British accent, "my husband is afraid of heights."
Soon afterwards, Roesel grabbed his leaf blower and a ladder, and proceeded to remove the leaves from their roof. "It was no big deal," he said.
Perhaps it wasn't to him, but the couple had never experienced such an act of servanthood performed in the name of Jesus. Within two weeks, they attended the worship service at FBC Leesburg. Over the next two weeks, they heard the truth of the gospel several times. Within thirty days of the leaf removal, they both surrendered their lives to Jesus.
Today, they are both active in the ministries of the church.
"I could have spent two years debating the claims of Jesus. I could have given them Evidence That Demands a Verdict," Roesel said. "But one loving act of servant evangelism did more than I could have ever done in that amount of time.
"Churches that average fifteen, twenty, or twenty-five in attendance don't have the resources for opening a women's shelter … but you don't have to have all these resources to blow the leaves off someone's roof."