Here’s another vintage post from Michael Spencer in 2007. As we all begin this week anticipating the coming of Jesus – taking stock of our lives and the lives of others around us – Michael gives us another perspective to take to heart. As you make your final charitable donations this year, consider these words. Blessings! Charlie
I want to start this post with a quote from a typical ambitious evangelical church that wants to grow. Get big. Add lots of people. Become “mega.” Get the crowds and their kids in the doors.
But I’ve decided not to insult you. If you don’t know the vast majority of American Christianity is about churches getting bigger, and bigger…and bigger if possible, then where are you? Iceland? Mars?
Then I want to tell you what a friend is doing this week. He’s in Hurricane Katrina country, building houses. He’s with a group of Christians that moved down there after the hurricane and planted a church. The thing is, this church doesn’t have a building and all the usual church programs. They don’t have that single-minded church growth ambition focus. They are different. These Christians are basically building houses, cleaning up, rebuilding. They are a servant church. “Missional” for those of you who can say that and think good thoughts.
They’ve come into the ruins and incarnated Jesus, the carpenter, by serving and loving the homeless. They build and repair houses. The reputation of Jesus in that community is not displayed on a neon sign, but in the finished houses and tears of those who will live in them.
Those Christians are a different kind of church. A footwashing, gospel-living, Kingdom-embodying, incarnational movement of Jesus followers.
I’ve got a prediction: They never will be big.
Not with goals, attitude and actions like that. They won’t ever have to worry about where to put the crowds or how to finance a worship center to seat the thousands and thousands who want to worship with them.
There are a lot of churches and ministries that won’t ever get very big. Here in the mountains we have what we used to call “Baptist Centers.” Little “social ministry” operations, aimed at mercy ministry for the poor. Ours around here is called the “Friendship House.” We give away clothes to poor people in the community. Sometimes we give away food. We don’t ask any questions. That ministry won’t ever need to worry about stadium seating. Or replacing the audio-visual gear before next year’s Christmas pageant.
In a large city in our state, there’s a mission downtown that’s ministered to the homeless, the addicted and the mentally ill for many years. They’ve got better facilities than they did twenty years ago, but never enough resources for the need. They could use better facilities, but they won’t be moving to the suburbs any time soon. Like most ministries of their kind, they use a lot of volunteers. few people are paid. Except for those holiday groups and the occasional youth group doing a project, it’s usually a bare bones crew serving the meal and handing out the blankets.
They’ll never become “mega.” Success in today’s evangelical success race will completely allude them.
It’s that way with ministries all around you. The ones that shelter homeless people. The “rescue missions.” The battered women’s shelter. The facilities providing care for Alzheimer’s families. The outreaches to build houses for the poor and to try to repair substandard houses in Appalachia. The volunteer crisis pregnancy centers. The literacy programs. The “Help” programs that provide assistance with utilities.
They will never become some “big church” featured on the local news. You’ll probably never hear about them unless some celebrity stops in or it’s a VERY slow news day on local media.
These ministries and missions are almost always small while their sponsoring churches are big. The crowds are at the pageants, not at the weekly meal for the homeless. The churches are full. The ministries in the darkness, on the streets, in the mountains, on the reservations, in the poor neighborhoods…they’re small. So small you can miss them if you don’t know about them.
Most of them have no budget for publicity. They aren’t on Christian radio asking for money. No billboards. No golf tournaments. They aren’t getting Joel Osteen’s and Joyce Meyer’s 100 million dollars a year. To be honest, many don’t know if they will be open six months from now. Their staffs aren’t making six figures or driving a Lexus. Those who loyally serve at those ministries long ago got used to getting by on whatever second hand donations of money and goods show up. They depend on God to see what happens. They can’t make it happen otherwise.
They are no big thing. In fact, for many of these small, unglamorous ministries, there is a kind of invisibility, even locally. They aren’t competing for young families with the church across town by adding another kickin’ band. They aren’t working on how to appear hip, cool and relevant. They are trying to hammer a nail, keep a drunk off the street, save some children, hand out some blankets and food. They are trying to do justice and show mercy. They are always walking humbly with God compared to the rest of us.
Of course, one day, you’ll know all about them.
One day, they will be a big thing. On that day when Jesus comes to reveal his Kingdom, there won’t be any way to miss these ministries and the people who keep them going. He’ll make sure of that.
The one for whom there was no room in the inn, the one from forgotten Nazareth, the one with the unwed mother, the one whose infant skin was covered with straw and rags in a stable, the one who had no place to lay his head, the one who was the poor, the cold, the naked and the imprisoned. He will remember those ministries. I assure you.
You might consider dropping in on one of those ministries sometime. They do have one thing many big churches don’t have.
Or, to be more precise, they do have someone many big churches don’t have. And he’s not generated on a big screen or via special effects.
He’s the one I hope we’re all looking for. He’s not so hard to find, even if, in this world, he’s no big thing. Just think like Jesus, and you’ll find the way.