Central alum, Rev. Lee Jost (MDiv 2012), founding pastor of Christ the Servant Church in Johnson County, Kansas, is an entrepreneurial pastor involved in transformative ministry. Jost relates that he began thinking about much of what has developed in his ministry while in seminary: “I always felt pulled towards this kind of ministry. I felt convicted that the church needed to look different, and the theological formation for that came in seminary, especially Dr. Ron Carlson’s courses in missional church.”
A little over two years ago Lee started a nonprofit called Cultivate, Inc. to broaden a ministry the church had begun called Strengthening Families and to open more possibilities for partnering with community organizations. The Strengthening Families ministry is a program that brings families of juvenile offenders together for better communication, connection, and to learn how to set limits for youth.
A church member, Dennis Wright, began to see that there was also a need to reach out to adults who were living in poverty with no resources and involved in the justice system as adult offenders. He could see that those involved in the Johnson County Adult Residential Center, a correction system separate from jail which requires the residents to have a job and provides transportation for that to happen, was helpful but didn’t go far enough. The jobs would typically be things like stocking shelves at Walmart or working in the back at Winsteads. He wanted them to have a chance at better jobs that would help them beyond their time with the justice system. A nationally recognized welding instructor, Wright initiated a welding training program in partnership with the Adult Residential Center.
It soon became apparent that even with better jobs, the students lacked certain life skills. Some were succeeding – one even becoming a supervisor – but one lost his job because his brother asked him to help him paint a house, another didn’t have required safety goggles and got fired after repeatedly showing up to work without them. Cultivate, Inc. began partnering with the Adult Residential Center to provide, in addition to job training, a life skills component similar to that of the Strengthening Families program.
Jost began investigating who else might be doing similar kinds of skills and thinking pattern training and connected with Beau Heyen of Episcopal Community Services – now Nourish KC – and Executive Director of Catalyst Kitchens, a nationwide organization working through soup kitchens. Cultivate, Inc. also formed a partnership with Nourish KC which resulted in the addition of culinary training with professional certification, and the College of Trades, a combination of life skills and certification, was born.
Since that time Microsoft Office training led by someone from Cerner, as well as forklift operation and entry level IT training through a connection with Johnson County Community College have been added to the jobs that are a part of the College of Trades training. In addition, Cultivate, Inc. now includes life skills combined with creative photography and improv classes for adults who are a part of the drug treatment program at Therapeutic Community, another arm of the Johnson County program.
There were 8 in the first class of College of Trades. This year’s class includes 35 students with close to 20 volunteers engaged, most of whom are from faith communities in Johnson County. Those who complete the training exhibit more stable behaviors. There is no prerequisite to have a faith story, but if the students do, they have a faith community to connect with if they want that – a way to grow and move into the community, which is a similar goal of the Johnson County program. In this way the church is partnering with state to transform individuals coming back to their communities.
“The myth is that Church and State can’t partner,” says Jost. “Catholic Charities and others disprove that myth every day. The community wants to restore human dignity, and the Church is about the same thing.”
As Jost and those involved in Cultivate, Inc. see it, investing in their neighbors who are part of Johnson County Corrections, means investing in the communities in which they live and serve. While Jost’s church gave birth to the non-profit, he considers it as faith informed but not faith-based. The focus is to provide onramps to serving vulnerable people in the community. More churches are partnering with the programs of Cultivate, Inc., but the biggest challenge is building a funding model. For Jost, that is the next step in the process – finding a way to make the ministry sustainable.
Jost sees himself as a parish minister, rather than simply as a pastor of his congregation. In addition to his part time pastoring position with the church, and his work with Cultivate, Inc., he has two other part time positions to help sustain his own family financially. He connects children and family with resources in one position and works, in the second position, with Re-Start, a homeless shelter for adults without children in Johnson County.
With a heart for helping people to restore their human dignity, Jost uses his entrepreneurial skills to be a pastor for a whole community. He and the people with whom he ministers are an inspiration and provide a model for how to be Church in a new age of the Spirit’s work in the world.