Set Free Church stays the course with poor
By Allen Palmeri
KANSAS CITY—One of the more unusual Missouri Baptist church plants launched in the 2000s is pressing on with a heart to reach the poor.
Set Free of Kansas City, which is focused on the metropolitan community of Riverside these days, is all about downtown discipleship.
“It’s dedicated to reaching out to the homeless and the addicted and the afflicted,” said Set Free Pastor Reggie Carter, 44, who has been with the national ministry for a decade.
Set Free began in the early 1980s in California as an outreach to bikers and prisoners. The Kansas City church began in 2003 with a core group of about eight or nine people and has moved from a downtown location to Parkville to Riverside. Carter said he began to really get involved with the foundation of the ministry in Parkville.
“I started with one (residential) home, no church, maybe three or four men, no women,” he said. “I gave it to the Lord, saying, ‘Lord, here I am. You sent me 1,500 miles. What’s next?’ By faith God told me, ‘Don’t worry about it.’”
The move to Riverside became possible even as the facilities of First Baptist Church, Riverside, were made available to Set Free.
“We’re discipling probably about 60 per month now,” he said.
Upwards of 170 homeless people were coming to Set Free services in downtown Kansas City in 2006, but discipleship programs for the homeless are not exactly Sunday Schools filled with coffee and doughnuts. Ministry is often hard. How many traditional classroom attendees in Missouri Baptist settings battle drug addiction, alcoholism, gang involvement/entanglement, distress and crisis? Not as many as the Set Free crowd.
Carter said he is often dealing with “a total lack of discipline and purpose” in the lives of people. As a result, said Associate Pastor Cody Dowell of Set Free’s sponsor church, Northland Baptist of Kansas City, “tons of people come and walk.” It is estimated that only one-fifth of the attendees will ever complete the program, Dowell said.
“Once you start taking it personal, it’s going to eat you up,” Carter said. “You could spend a lot of energy on one individual, or a group of individuals, and you turn around the next morning and everybody’s either walked out or they end up using again. That’s a lot of energy you figure is being wasted if you take this type of job personal. But like the Bible says, ‘Many are called and few are chosen.’ I look at it like God is shuffling a lot of people through. It could be thousands, and only a few are actually called to do ministry.”
Vince Blubaugh, Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) church planting strategist for the Kansas City region, said that Carter is an example of how God is not limited to using a leader with a seminary degree to accomplish a mighty work.
“Reggie brings them in, gets them clean, houses them, witnesses to them, and disciples those who get saved through Bible study,” Blubaugh said. “He also puts them to work.”
“The Ranch” in a Set Free venue is a safe, protected place where participants are supervised around the clock and introduced to the transforming power of Jesus. Participants then move on to phases which include service with the church or even pursuing employment.
“We see the need to rebuild the lives of these people by showing them how to make Christ the head of their lives, teaching them the discipline that they need, and when they are faced with temptation, to make the right decisions instead of making the easy ones,” Carter said. “We also teach a work ethic and disciple people so that they may become who God has shown us in His Word, by being examples of Jesus who is in them.”
Planting seeds and trusting that God will bring a harvest sometime, maybe even somewhere down the road, is what Set Free is all about.
Carter has a drive to speak hope to the hopeless.
“It’s hard to really explain when you’ve just got the Spirit working in you, the desire to love God, and the love that I’ve got for people,” he said. “God gives me the strength to keep going on, and before you know it, 10 years seems like just yesterday.”
One task that Matt Marrs, senior pastor of Northland Baptist, has with Set Free is to talk about the financial needs that are facing the urban outreach. Marrs is in agreement with statements on www.setfreekansascity.org that providing food, clothes and long-term housing and spiritual guidance necessary to be set free in Christ is a function of the pocketbook, with churches and individuals donating food, supplies and money.
Carter’s pledge is that Set Free members are being set apart. “We keep these individuals in the Bible 98 percent of the time,” he said.