I spent the largest number of my hours (close to 40 and counting) at Eleos Ministries. Perhaps the most inspiring organization to me for years, Eleos Ministries has become a beacon of light to the neighborhood proudly known by some residents as the Historic Kansas City Northeast (KCNE). As I write this in the coffee shop, known as Eleos Coffee, I am walking distance from many churches representing a handful of languages. If I were to walk fifteen blocks to the east, I would pass a Nazarene church (English and Spanish), a Wesleyan church (Spanish spoken), several independent Spanish churches, and most personally significant for me is Hope Community Church, where I served as the community liaison and children’s pastor for three years. Thus, I am familiar with this neighborhood. Yet, while many Kansas City metro residents watch the crime on the news that happens here, I am drawn to the people who are in desperate life situations.
The C.E.O. of Eleos Ministries, Dan Smith, was generous to give me and hour and a half to explain the path of his life and ministry, which lead to moving his family from upper middle-class suburban Johnson County, Kansas to one of the most violent and poorest areas of the inner city. While the goal of setting of a coffee shop ministry was an early focus for Dan, it did not become clear until he began to actually move forward with his vision that the pieces began to come together.
I asked Dan questions regarding his responsibilities, duties, and experiences, as well as his influence toward youth and children, and even the strengths and challenges of Eleos Ministries. I also asked Dan to tell about how his prior learned skills and education have contributed to his successes as the C.E.O. of Eleos Ministries developed. Finally, I asked the him to provide me recommendations for someone who wishes to start a marketplace ministry, including nuts and bolts, and considering one’s marriage and family in the process. In the remainder of this journal entry, I will summarize our conversation and then I will provide a reflection as I draw implication to modern options in education.
Dan’s primary responsibilities include overseeing the “marrying [of] business and mission,” as he words it, which consists of trusting his coffee shop manager to operate the business, and his case management staff member to operate the ministry portion. This is not a ‘hands-off’ approach, either, since any staff illness, demands from the business or ministry, falls on his shoulders. Dan is also accountable to a board, which determines his salary amongst other operational decisions, and is required by the IRS as one of the qualifying components for having 501C-3 approval.
Duties for Dan include any operational gaps that would fall as a result of staff illness, missing staff, new developments in the organizational structure, and the demands of the business which exceed the workload capacity of the labor at present.
Eleos Ministries has impacted adults on a case-by-case basis for Bible study and in getting help for personal barriers to their growth and success. Eleos has also assessed the needs of between five and ten family or household units. The ministry has provided practical home repair, including general needs, plumbing, and trash removal. Yet, families who have the ability and willingness to contribute to the projects on their homes have been found to be more likely to take ownership of their residence during and after the work has been done. Personal ownership for services received creates many positive benefits, including improvement of individual dignity. From the perspective of an educator, ascribing personal responsibility to the client, or a student, is the seed of self-efficacy.
Even with careful planning and execution of its ministerial services, Eleos Ministries has its strengths and challenges. Strengths include the nature of Eleos Coffee as a marketplace ministry. Marketplace ministry, or M.M. for short, is a term used to describe business entrepreneurship that uses business as a store front to community development at the level of individual friendships. Similar business models have been used in foreign missions under the term, “creative access,” when evangelizing where religious gathering is dangerous or prohibited by law. Yet, missionaries have begun to realize that the marketplace ministry model has potential to facilitate a space where the church can exist in everyday life. In a course that I took at Nazarene Theological Seminary in 2013 under the instruction of Dr. Fletcher Tink, I was first introduced to the term, I came to know marketplace ministry as a representation of the “church scattered,” while the traditional congregational gathering would be known as the “church gathered.” As a representation of the scattered church, Eleos Ministries seeks innovative ways to proclaim the gospel, for prayer, and to give compassion. These three “P’s” were explained to me as the primary focus of the ministry arm of Eleos Ministries.
With strength of an organization also comes its challenges. One challenge, which is also an important lesson for someone interested in marketplace ministry, is the messiness of marrying business and ministry. When the front door of Eleos Coffee opens in the morning, the first room that most customers and clients enter is the business side, which is the seating area of the coffee house. Yet, within an hour or two, an opening in the east wall leads to a second seating area, which houses the daily 10:00am bible study and other events sponsored by the ministry arm of Eleos Ministries. As a volunteer of the ministry arm, I have had to watch and guide the movement of clients and bible study attendees in a manner as to minimize crowding of the business side, and vice versa. Yet, a bible study guest may order something from the business side which gives an at-glance impression that the two arms are not, in fact, completely separate.
Challenges on the business side include caring for employees and the needs of customers at all times, covering when employees are sick, quit, etc (a responsibility which usually falls on Dan). At times, Dan has experienced the exit of an employee from the business due to confusion of business and ministry. In reality, it is unlikely that the two will be completely separate any time soon, which can be an opportunity for coffee shop employees to show creative support for people having a hard day, yet, can be intimidating if a customer desires to work quietly on a computer.
Perhaps one of the most important lessons about starting up a marketplace ministry, such as Eleos, is that the vision of the organization will need to be modified as the process moves forward. In Dan’s words, “goals cannot be your master,” but to work hard at ministry without a goal in mind is the same as running a race without a finish line. While the long term vision of Eleos Ministries is to become a trusted coffee brand through planting of new Eleos ministries, the newly discovered community needs lead to doors opened doors, which can be compared to an objective along the way toward a broader goal. A good example of realistic goal setting is the new, second, Eleos Ministries location which opened in October, 2016 in the inner city of Detroit, Michigan. Many challenges lead to delays which made the opening of the new coffee shop slightly different than originally envisioned. Yet, the personal flexibility of Dan, his staff who relocated from Kansas City to Detroit permanently, along with trust in God and faithful supporters, the new Detroit ministry took shape in a way that was most profitable for the goal that God had in mind for them.
Ministry has always been in development for Dan. After attending Calvary Bible College and majoring in music ministry, he spent twenty years as an associate pastor of music before a series of events lead him to reconsider the nature of his calling to ministry. Developing an interest in creating a business that would roast coffee with direct trade as his model, Dan envisioned that he could set an ethical standard with business practice using good integrity.
Thus, he entered the coffee business by working three months for Westport Coffee House, which is a small business where he gained significant knowledge of the nuts and bolts of a small business. Dan recommends that someone who wishes to start a new organization take the time to work for an existing organization before setting out independently. Experience in the field will give an opportunity to assess the holes in the existing services, and provide clear data upon which to establish a vision and objectives. As such, Dan this very thing as he began the journey of Eleos Ministries. It is also important for an entrepreneur to use this time of employment with an existing organization as an opportunity to allow one’s family to experience the enjoyment and satisfaction of working in such a vocation. Dan explained the importance in taking care not to run ahead of God and of one’s family. Jumping too far too quickly could create distance between the self and one’s family. Yet, as one’s spouse sees the degree of enjoyment involved in the process, and when the whole family prayerfully discerns that it is proper to move forward with a vision, then, they will likely be on board with you one hundred percent.
As the first Eleos Coffee was established in Kansas City, Dan had first envisioned that it would be built on a particular corner in a neighborhood that was different from where it would eventually come to take place. That is, when Dan registered Eleos, Incorporated, in February, 2011, his original goal encompassed opening the ministry on Troost Avenue. Yet, when kept running into dead ends he did not let himself become discouraged. Dan prayed and sought God’s direction. And, direction is exactly what happened when a room opened up for rent, yet, in a less-than-trendy part of town for a coffee shop ministry. As it turned out, the KCNE neighborhood was exactly where God needed the church to scatter. Independence Avenue in Kansas City, Missouri is an area needing economic growth and compassionate ministries, yet, disproportionately few people have answered the call to serve God there.
Thus, in April of 2011, Dan rented the space formerly occupied by a bar on Indiana and Independence Avenues. In October, 2011, they opened up the coffee shop, and in 2014, they acquired the space adjacent to them (formerly an Ethiopian restaurant) and designated the space primary for Eleos’ ministry arm. It is in this newer space that I have assisted with greeting people coming to bible study, and with distribution of hygiene kits and snack packs for guests afterward. It is in this space where I have assisted a client who needs help getting past a hurdle in becoming medically insured. It is here where I can see myself very on-target with the kind of work that I feel God is leading me to do–that is, to be an advocate for people who have fallen into the cracks of society, and are in desperate need of love, mercy, guidance, and dignity. Most importantly, I see the potential to live out God’s call to be present with people on the street in their time of need, in solidarity and for the purpose of empowering them to gain the mercy of God that I have also been granted.