“The Least of These”: Life-on-Life Community Development

By Dr. Terry M. Goodwin


Dr. Terry M. Goodwin is the founder and Executive Director of Sun Ministries. He lives and works in the Hyde Park neighborhood of North St. Louis with his wife Suzette. Together they are leading a new paradigm of ministry they call Pastoring the Community. 

In Matthew chapter 25 Jesus tells a story about how we should treat people. In this story he states:

“‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.”

When we approach our problems in the neighborhoods we serve we must never lose sight of the “least of these.” For many people their work is dedicated to helping provide for the “least of these.” We help them with food, housing, utilities, clothing and many other necessities of life. Yet after decades of hard work our problems persist. To care for someone is a noble venture but to provide for their self-sufficiency is a greater good.

Many charitable efforts are offered as a program or a class. This approach to our work misses the need for life-on-life interaction. What the “least of these” needs is a family, a community, a network of people who will care for them and empower them to be all that God designed them to be. They don’t just need this Monday – Friday from 8 – 5; they need this 24/7. Training and provision will always fall short if they are not connected to loving, caring people who are willing to live side by side with the “least of these.”

There is a marginalized group of people in our communities. They lack education, social skills, job skills and have often never been surrounded by loving relationships. The “least of these” are oppressed, beat down, abused, neglected, and carry their past mistakes like yokes around their necks. If we want to help them, we must walk with them and carry their burdens. We must make a place for them to live and work in our communities.

Many of the “least of these” have never had a legitimate paying job. They do not know what is required of them to show up on time, take instruction from authority, care for the things of others, and many other lessons that are learned in employment. The “least of these” carry burdens that will not just go away with provision and training. They need our love and our care and our grace as they struggle to overcome the weight of the yoke they carry. Many have been conditioned by the pain and failures of their past to expect bad results again.

Unfortunately, for our society, money drives our work. Businesses are looking to hire the best of the best not the “least of these.” Funders drive programming as the desired approach to our work. It is easier to evaluate a program than it is to evaluate life-on-life work. Life is fluid and messy. How can we tell if our money is getting the results we desire without the ability to count and analyze data? If money sources would change the way they offer support to show a priority for life-on-life work instead of programming, we would have more people moving to our most desperate neighborhoods and living alongside the “least of these,”

When we take a life-on-life approach to our work we focus on building the person up and rebuilding the communities they live in, one person and one house at a time. If we adopt a life-on-life approach to our work, we will house and employ the “least of these” and thus raise our entire community in the process. As we lift up the “least of these” we empower them to take advantage of the many opportunities that already exist. We remove the oppressive yoke from their neck and bring equity into their lives.

Articles in “From the Field” represent the opinions of the author only and do not represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri- St. Louis.