From the CEO


It’s About Leading People to the River

I love to tell people that the rebranding we went through was not just a “new paint job.” Becoming Citygate Network allows us to be very intentional about balancing our communications and content between the rescuing that missions and kindred ministries do and the life-transformation work that we need to fully embrace going forward. Here is how I put it in one recent communication:

Members of Citygate Network clearly rescue people. When they coax a needle away from a defeated addict who is about to overdose, that’s a rescue. When they fling open the door for an unwilling prostitute running away from her pimp…and lock it behind her, that’s a rescue. When they welcome a former gang member just released from prison and provide a base for him to launch a new life and escape reincarceration, that’s a rescue. When they provide good nutrition for a young child whose brain and body development is languishing because his or her family is regularly experiencing “food insecurity,” that’s a rescue. All of this and more happens hundreds of times every day in our member organizations.

But the ministry that happens after the rescue is equally important, and it is what you will be hearing us talk about more and more: The life transformation process—seeing people advance through various stages where they are saved (making choices that will keep them from chronic illness and physical death, and making the decision that will keep them from spiritual death); sober (no longer controlled by stimulants or depressants); stable (mentally and emotionally balanced and enjoying good health); skilled (being academically credentialed and set on a career path); secure (able to provide financially for themselves and their loved ones); settled (benefitting from having the same safe place of their own to stay every night); and serving (giving back to the community through missional living).

The six “S” words in the above paragraph—which is one more than I used in the animated rebranding videos—are a clarion call for missions and kindred ministries to get comfortable with collaboration. Very few members can do all of this alone. We are going to need to demonstrate to our local communities that we desire to work with other organizations—Christian and non-Christian—in order to see these six “S” objectives come to pass in the lives of the people we serve.

Healthy funding will require it. More and more donors—primarily younger ones—are experiencing compassion fatigue at an increasing rate. Year after year, month after month, they saw their parents donating $1.68 per meal to feed the archetypal homeless man day after day at the local mission. Now that the basic meal price has increased—as has the number of people needing one—they’ve lost their parents’ perspective and have developed one of their own: They want us to get creative and find solutions, not find ways to be better relief agencies. One young man asked me this question: “Can’t you fix this thing? It’s like a car payment that never ends.” Despite what it says in Deuteronomy 15:11, our best arguments for why we do what we have always done will get harder and harder to win.

And as we accomplish the six “S” objectives, we will have to produce reliable outcome data. Helping all missions and ministries get on board with this will be a big piece of what’s in store for 2019.

In this new year, the narrative for some of us might have to change. To borrow an analogy from Dan Rogers at Cherry Street Mission Ministries in Toledo, we all need to see ourselves as working beside a river rather than a lake. A lake is calm and serene. People lay out their towels and open their picnic baskets on a lakefront beach. They jump in and float or swim around for a while and get refreshed. Eventually they exit at the same place they entered and flop down on their terrycloth to dry off—until the heat of the sun says it’s time for another dip. In some respects, that’s the way we have sold the gospel. Come and find refreshment and assuagement for your condition at the mission. Wade in as far as you want. Come back again and again and have your needs met. God is the same day after day. Experience Him and be renewed…or re-renewed.

But in reality, the gospel is more like a rushing river. You don’t see bathing-suited people pitching their beach umbrellas and setting up for a fun afternoon on a riverbank. That’s because you can’t jump into a fast-flowing river and expect to reemerge at the same spot where you entered. Change occurs. The gospel is a force, and when you become fully immersed in it you can’t help but be swept forward to new encounters around every bend. You might feel fear from time to time, but exhilaration is the dominant experience. You have to develop and constantly perfect new skills to stay afloat. The distance you travel is only limited by how often you flounder and try to grab on to overhanding branches and attempt to get out. Think of it this way: We are life outfitters, teaching people how to swim in the rapids of a divine river.