By Steffanie Rivers
If you think ministry is just about attending Sunday morning church service and Wednesday night Bible study, Cornerstone Baptist Church in the Fair Park area of south Dallas will expand your vision. Since 1988, Pastor Chris Simmons has been expanding the vision of what ministry is at Cornerstone and in the community. He began pastoring in the inner city of South Dallas when it was known as a criminal “war zone” due to gang activities, prostitution, drive-by shootings, drugs and murder. Born to parents that served as foster parents to over 300 children over a span of 38 years, Simmons grew up aware of the needs of the less privileged and serving them accordingly. “As a church, we see ourselves doing what God expects from us in Matthew 25: 35-36: ‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Community outreach and ministry is the DNA of the church,” he explained.
To keep alcohol from overtaking the neighborhood, the church purchased a liquor store and shut it down. Today, that liquor store serves as a kitchen that serves a total of 6,000 meals every month. When drugs, prostitutes and criminals overran the surrounding apartment complexes, the church purchased and renovated the properties, turning them into ministry centers. This included the Philemon House, a former crack house now transformed into a home for the formerly incarcerated.
One complex has a dental and optical clinic, while two others serve as transitional homes for men and women released from prison. There is a Shower Facility that opens every Thursday and Saturday and is staffed by volunteers from partner churches and organizations. Also, a Clothes Closet, where people can choose clean clothing every 30 days, is open every Thursday and Saturday and is similarly staffed. “Ministry costs. You must be willing to invest in your neighborhood,” said Simmons.
“As we take on meeting the needs of people on a daily basis, it is like we have not even scratched the surface. Our responsibility is not directed at only benevolence, but the overall state of the individual.” One of their next projects is to build single-family homes to offer affordable home ownership to church members and other residents. Residents, who lead most of the church’s community projects, most certainly would not have been given the chance for leadership anywhere else. Since Simmons agrees that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care, all this community involvement has helped to build the Kingdom of God. Church membership has grown from 175 parishioners in a 3,000-square-foot building to more than 1,500 members.
Cornerstone’s new sanctuary is the old Minyard’s grocery store that sat vacant for more than a decade. Simmons and his wife Janie have been married for more than 25 years and have three children.
For more information about Cornerstone Baptist Church, Dallas go to cornerstonedallas.org or email the pastor at [email protected].