On a beautiful Autumn morning, as I was riding from the motel to the church I was to speak at, I felt the urge to stop and visit with the people within the neighborhood, and those walking around the streets. Having the morning’s message burning in my soul about experiencing a “Genesis Work of recreation,” the desire to hear their thoughts became too much to just pass up. It appeared the best thing to do was to affirm the felt need with facts. The community had changed racially and economically with most of the church members driving in from other communities. A beautiful facility filled with wonderful Christians, but disconnected to the reality of great need within the community that surrounded them. The Senior Pastor certainly desires to see the community transformed by the Grace of God, but it takes the entire body to function as the hands and feet of Jesus.
First, I encountered a gentleman in his 60’s, alone and hesitant to talk to a stranger riding a Harley Davidson. Asking him, “What kind of neighborhood is this?” He quickly responded, “A good neighborhood.” Trying to end the visit, I asked him several questions to keep him engaged, then he finally said, “Look, we need help. Killings happen, and no one even knows who it was that did the killing. Senseless killings. A church could help this neighborhood.” The frustration and pain of living in a place of impending danger rose to the top and with that he departing stating, “Just help our neighborhood, just help our neighborhood, just help our neighborhood.”
Next was an encounter with three men in a parking lot of a local convenience store, by keeping the conversation brief brought ease to the nerves and words flowing. The question was posed, “What do you think a church can do to help this neighborhood?” One of three men, Steve answered with an honest tact that birthed the wisdom that would soon follow, “Now, I have a knowledge of what is right, but I am not saying that I am living right. A church should integrate.” Pausing to reflect, I find it interesting that an African-American is talking to a white man about a predominately white church and the first thing mentioned is the topic of integration. Maybe integration of the church is a desire that all have, but are too fearful to mention or take action upon?
I then asked Steve, “How do we integrate?” He stated, “I think it would be good for them to go door to door and tell people they are welcome to attend the church. After taking a long drag off of his smoldering cigarette, he flipped the ashes into the parking lot and continued, “You see, most of the church people think that the work begins when people walk through the door, you know, but that’s what is wrong! The church needs to come out here and talk to us. You know, most of the people put on their grave clothes, yeah that’s right, they dress all up for death and go to church, then forget they were once like many of us out here. They are people who have forgotten what it was like when they could not seem to get out of their situation and condition they somehow ended up in. They talk down to you because they forget. If they want to speak to me, talk about how you overcame, because once, you were down here also.” He finished his thought with, “You know, there are a lot of people giving food out, and that is good, you can never do enough of that.” At the end of our visit, he introduced me to the two other men who had stood by listening-one was David, and the other an Army Vet of whom I thanked for serving our country. We parted after some small talk about my motorcycle journey of 1,500 miles to speak at the church later that morning.
Thinking back over this conversation, the following important thoughts were brought to mind as I had listened to Steve share his heart:
- It has appeared to ministers and pastors that door to door was not effective, yet the cry from the community is, “Come on out and visit my house and let me know I am invited to your church. Not an outreach, not a special service, but just tell me it’s okay to just come and participate in a regular church family.”
- When we state, “we are working for the Lord,” we generally refer this to our service to the church folks within the building, and not those outside it’s four walls.
- We are seen as people who have forgotten our own failures and make people in failing situations seem and feel small and unimportant. Could we speak from a time when we were not so strong? Could we go further than this and share how even in our weak and destructive times in life, we pushed through, and were given hope and healing?
- He did recognize that there are those who are trying to help by giving to immediate needs and he was thankful-but must we stop there?
Firing up the bike and roaring off with a new passion and desire to assist churches get outside the four walls and love people, he carried on with another day in life existing to just make it another day, and hoping to see the day when the local church body would invite him to hang out inside their beautiful building. During the sermon at church about God desiring to do a “Genesis Week,” I summarized even further that we are to listen to the people in the community around us, rather than appear we have all the answers. Go out of the way and intentionally become a part of their community and lives. Don’t act like you care when you really don’t, because they can see through that. Listen and become intentional about the community until you do care with a heart of love and true concern. This appeared to encourage some and enlighten others to grow, and even anger some for mentioning this topic at all-yet we overlook that aspect as we push our churches to become a true community through outreach in their neighborhoods.
Feeling refreshed and blessed on this Sunday evening,