Pastor Loren Dubberke’s background has eminently prepared him for the next leg of the journey God has him on. In his early ministry, as an InterVarsity staff worker, he helped to lay the foundations for what would later become the InterVarsity’s Fresno Institute for Urban Leadership by running yearly urban service and learning projects in some of Fresno’s high poverty neighborhoods. After completing Seminary at FPU he assumed the Associate Pastor role at North Fresno Mennonite Brethren Church, and continued his commitment to equipping God’s people to be vitally connected to their neighborhood, especially in partnership with the most vulnerable residents. Last year the church received the Community Service Award from the Seminary. And now he and his colleagues have launched FACE, Fresno Area Community Enterprises, a non-profit dedicated to restoring hope and renewing neighborhoods. We interviewed Pastor Loren this week about this entrepreneurial effort.
CCT: So Loren, as a Pastor don’t you have enough on your plate already? Are you nuts? What are some reasons you started a Community Benefit Organization (CBO) based at the church?
LD: Yeah, that is what might wife said too! I have had to work hard to convince her and others that I really can balance both my role as a Pastor and Executive Director of a CBO. We’ll see; pray for me! We decided to launch a CBO for many reasons. We feel burdened by the numbers of families we come in contact with on a weekly basis in our neighborhood who are struggling to survive and are hurting in various ways. We also recognized the limitations of what the church can provide in meeting those needs. Also, some of the ministries we do in the neighborhood are pretty risky and we want to protect the church by having a separate non-profit. Finally, we hope to tap into resources that go beyond the church that can help us become more effective at what we do.
CCT: The Fresno Area Community Enterprises (FACE) is an unusual name. How was it chosen, and what is the significance of the word “Enterprise”?
LD: FACE was significant for us because it reminds us of several things that we think are essential for carrying out our vision. It reminds us that as God’s people we are called to face and embrace people struggling in our community and not turn our backs toward them. Secondly, we want to love people in tangible and practical ways, putting a FACE on the love we preach about. Thirdly, we desire to be an organization that reflects the face of our neighborhood in all of its ethnic and socio-economic diversity. The word enterprise not only helped us complete the acronym of FACE but it also conveys a sense of innovation and entrepreneurial thinking. We want to unleash some of that untapped creativity in our faith community to better our neighborhood.
CCT: What are some of the core objectives and activities?
LD: Our goal is to become a resource and training center that brings together people from the business, faith, and community sectors to work together for community transformation. We also want to equip and mobilize people in our church and community to utilize their talents and gifts to work at making our community stronger and healthier. Some of the activities that we do on a regular basis are: after-school tutoring and sports club, furniture and food distribution ministry, GED class, crisis counseling, job placement and care teams.
CCT: This kind of socially minded constellation of ministries is new for many churches. How has your church responded to such a proactive approach to the neighborhood? What are some of the challenges you have had to overcome?
LD: We could not do something like this unless there was a strong core group of people in the church who believed in our mission and are committed long term to investing in our neighborhood. However, there certainly have been a number of challenges! Some people have left the church who were no longer comfortable in the direction we were heading. Some board members concerned about our “budget” have voiced questions about how financially feasible it is to take on a neighborhood with so many low-income families.
Others have wondered if our children will be “corrupted” by some of the other “community kids” who break a lot of the hidden rules of church behavior. These are legitimate questions. Building consensus at a leadership and congregational level has been a four year process, and has required lots of dialogue and meetings. But its been worth it. Also, because I am more of a big picture and action oriented type of person, I have struggled with the large amounts of time that are needed to figure out organizational and structural details that can bog the process down. I’d rather get a root canal than read and fill out an IRS form that is needed for our non-profit status to be accepted.
CCT: One of your objectives is developing leaders and entrepreneurs. What are some specific ways you are doing this? What is encouraging you in that process. What is the most daunting aspect of it?
LD: Many churches like us find themselves in a neighborhood where the demographics have changed dramatically in the last 20 years. Many ministry leaders find themselves ill-equipped or overwhelmed by the challenges of doing ministry in a complex environment. Most of us weren’t trained to be mental health experts, urban practitioners, crisis counselors, social workers, and cross-cultural specialists in Seminary.
Yet, for most of us doing ministry in Fresno, gaining skills in those areas are critical for building trust with people in our surrounding neighborhoods. Each year we host groups of students from Fresno Pacific and the Biblical Seminary that want to learn more about church-based community engagement. We also are launching the Micah Project this year which will be a ministry house in the neighborhood where 4-6 young adults will live together in community and learn about church and urban ministry. We are partnering with FIFUL to help guide us in this process. Finally, we are in dialogue with a number of business-minded and employers in the church who are going to help us start a job readiness and job placement program that can better prepare men and women to be successful in landing and keeping jobs. I am encouraged by the number of people, especially the retired and semi-retired, who are coming forward and offering help in this area of job readiness, job placement and job creation possibilities. It is fun to dream and see people of all ages in the church, especially the older generation, feel like they have a vital role to play in community transformation. The most daunting task is managing and caring for the number of people who want to serve.
CCT: What are some of the mechanics — i.e., how is it funded?, who leads it?, what is its relationship with the church’s leadership?, and for all of us are allergic to admin — what’s the paperwork involved in a CBO like?
LD: Our CBO has its own Board of Directors. We want it to work closely with the mission and the leadership of the church so we built into the by-laws that at least 60% of all board members will be from the church. We shifted a number of the ministries that used to fall under the Missions Department of our budget to FACE, so the funding for those programs will come from the church. As Executive Director I will attend all board and staff meetings of the church and provide regular updates to the church leadership teams.
As for the avalanche of administrative details, we hired a non-profit consultant who has played a huge role in helping FACE move forward.
In fact, we wouldn’t be having this conversation without her help. I sleep much better at night because of her administrative gifts. Amazingly, she seems to like root canals! Outside of the church, we are looking to build our donor base on May 2nd when we have our inaugural fundraiser dinner. We are ecstatic to have Randy White from the CCT as our keynote speaker! Our hope is to partner with local businesses, individuals and agencies that have a common interest in neighborhood renewal.
CCT: What theological convictions inform and guide either WHAT you do, or HOW you do it?
LD: John 1 is a key text for us as well as the model of how Jesus did ministry. He was very wholistic in the sense of meeting the whole needs of people, spiritual, physical, emotional and social. Reading the Gospels, one can’t help but notice how often Jesus devoted his attention to healing and ministering to people on the margins of society. He was intentional about it too, not just something on the side.
I like the passage in Isaiah 58 that talks about how when God’s people give of themselves to the poor and broken-hearted, we all get transformed, both giver and receiver. I have found that to be true.
Ministering alongside those that are different and vulnerable is very messy and complicated but it is spiritually life giving. We also view everyone as having special gifts and talents that need to be used and released for our community and church to grow and thrive. Helping people find a place to serve in the faith community is a big part of what we try to do.
CCT: What would you say to other churches that are considering starting a CBO in their neighborhood to get them going in the right direction or to avoid some pitfalls?
LD: Don’t rush the process and be patient. Look for a few people who God has also given the vision to as well so that you are not doing this solo. Ask God to give you discernment as you look for the signs of when to move forward and when to slow down. Build a prayer team and start exploring different models of what you might want to do. Every congregation and community is different so weigh the benefits and costs to the various models of ministry that are out there and choose the one that will work best for you.