Today's entry is a continuation of yesterday's post. Go here to read that one first.
On Sunday, Woodside Church (the church I belong to) cancelled morning worship services. Not so our pastor could sleep in, or because we have attendance or finance issues. They cancelled church so that we—all of its members—could BE the church.
When I first heard this idea I liked the concept, but I wasn’t keen on stepping outside my routine or being told to “do” church differently. But eventually I signed up for one of the dozens or outreach/service projects that had been arranged by our members.
When outreach Sunday (aka The Church Has Left the Building) rolled around, my daughter headed off with the senior high kids to make lunches and hand them out to homeless people in Philadelphia. Dan, our son and I went to help lead a worship service and serve lunch to a group of recovering addicts.
Any reservations I had about the outreach concept vanished as soon as I entered the church that was letting us use their facilities for our outreach. It felt right and comfortable to be there. Our Woodside group of about 15 gathered to organize the food and discuss last minute details of the service. Guests started to arrive—men and women battling addictions, some living in a local area recovery house; recovery ministry leaders; members of our host church; and passersby. Soon the small chapel was filled to standing room only.
Now, when I say our group ran the worship service, I mean just that. Our pastor was present and led the music, but the rest of the service was left to us—the “unqualified.” None of us were ordained pastors or worship leaders. But having participated in plenty of worship services in the prison, I’ve seen first hand how none of those “qualifications” matter one bit to God.
Sunday proved that truth once again. In our raggedy, sincere and intimate worship service, songs were sung, testimonies were shared, prayers were prayed, a message was given,and four people came forward to give their lives to Jesus. The power of the Holy Spirit was awesomely evident.
Afterward we served lunch to our guests and chatted with them over homemade lasagna, salads and desserts. I met Leroy and Pat and Lydia and Mike and Billy. Each at different places in their recovery journey. Some on the other side of it, others just beginning. All clinging tightly to the hope that only Jesus offers.
The only hope any of us has.
Dan talked to more folks than I did and neither of us wanted the day to end. Even our son seemed engaged and listened intently to the stories, especially as one man shared his battles with crack cocaine and recent rescue by the Holy Spirit.
We left filled with joy and such an overwhelming sense of purpose and God’s goodness. That afternoon the body of Christ set aside its differences—denominational, ministry, demographic, experiential—and joined together in the name of Jesus.
Sunday “church” has never been so remarkable.
Even the leader of the recovery ministry with whom our group partnered was blown away by the outreach and said, “It’s so unusual for churches to act this way. It just doesn’t happen.”
That night all of Woodside gathered together to worship and share outreach experiences. The turnout was fantastic. Enthusiasm bubbled as stories were told. It seemed just about everyone—men, women and children—had done something that day. We:
- Did yard cleanup for single moms, a nature center, a food pantry and a hospice
- Painted, organized and did house repairs for elderly neighbors
- Visited patients in hospice care and pediatric wards
- Held worship services for nursing home residents and recovering addicts
- Fed and cared for the homeless on the street and in camps
- Picked up litter on the highways and sports fields
- Made corsages and delivered them to nursing home residents
- Collected canned food for the food pantry
Woodside is only a medium-size church, but in just one day we directly touched thousands of lives. I looked across our worship service and was deeply moved by the immensity of our outreach. By stepping out of Sunday routines and comfort zones we put the gospel in action. We fed Jesus’ sheep. And we loved our neighbors. I heard Jesus whisper, “This is what my Church should look like.”
We don’t need to travel to a third-world country. Or quit our jobs and enter the mission field. We just need to open the door and leave the building.
What if Woodside did this again? What if we made it a habit?
What if you and your churches joined in?
God's children are waiting for our answer.