In the face of agonizing tragedy the church stepped up.
After monster tornadoes tore through Oklahoma, the people of the church demonstrated the simple and powerful love of Christ to those they never met. And may never see again. Yet the church served, without expecting anything in return.
Local churches offered their facilities to those who suddenly found themselves homeless. Church members collected truck loads of clothing, food and household goods for the stranded. These were acts of love, performed without sermonizing, without any expectation that the victims would later fill the pews or become “giving units.”
Other churches outside of the area jumped into action to assist those ravaged by the storms. Churches in Columbus, Ohio, collected batteries, tents, backpacks and baby supplies. Churches in New York sent vanloads of volunteers to clean debris from flattened neighborhoods. Churches in Indiana organized benefit concerts to raise funds for tornado relief.
These far-flung churches had no self-interests or hopes of gaining a return on their investment. They simply served. And loved.
And people noticed. An Oklahoma news reporter saw church volunteers move onto the scene after the tornadoes left. He told his listeners, “Wait for government aid and you’ll be here forever. The Baptist men will get it done tomorrow.”
That’s the church being the church.
CAN YOU SERVE WITHOUT SERMONIZING?
Sometimes, though, I wonder what keeps us from responding like that outside of extraordinary disasters. I was reminded of this inconsistency in recent weeks as we screened a preview of an upcoming documentary for church leaders and members. The film showed some Christians’ efforts to serve their local communities, to bring joy to the elderly, to bring love and dignity to homeless moms on skid row.
Every time we showed the clips, several church people expressed their doubts and dissatisfaction with the servants on the screen. “Where was the gospel?” “How do we know they heard the plan of salvation?” “What good does that do the church?” And my personal favorite: “You call that church? I didn’t hear any praise songs. I didn’t see any pews.”
For many churches, love and service have become conditional. Efforts to be “missional,” to reach out, to love your neighbor are only valid if they produce a return, if they reciprocate. Or if they’re wrapped in a sermon.
But Jesus made it quite clear. His second great commandment simply calls us to love those around us. No strings attached.
Sometimes the church has been visibly absent in times of real, ongoing need. A public school official in Joplin, Missouri noticed this absence after a massive tornado swept away much of his city and schools in 2011. At a meeting of community leaders to gain support for cooperation within the schools, Superintendent C.J Huff realized the pastors were missing. So he called a special meeting for the city’s faith leaders. After Huff acknowledged that the educational system has long banned religious teaching in public schools, a pastor stood up and said, “We can’t be the voice of God in the schools, but we can be the hands of God.”
That was a breakthrough for Joplin schools. Throngs of church members rallied to serve as volunteers in the schools. The schools rebounded from the disaster. The students soaked up the love. The dropout rate fell dramatically.
“The results have been profound,” Huff said. “Wouldn’t it be nice if every community in our nation behaved in that way?”
We can be the hands of God.
The comments and attitudes you wrote of, some of which I’ve heard through the years, are truly sad and tell me that in those moments, we forget about the heart of the gospel.
I don’t think it’s quite true that the church did not immediately respond in Joplin. Many years ago I was pastor of the Wildwood Baptist Church on East 20th. The church was right on the fringe of the tornado and had slight damage, but they responded magnificently in ministering immediately. I had four cousins in Joplin, three of whom lost their homes and one his life, so I kept aware of what was going on in Joplin, even though I was then, and now, living in Norman, OK. Perhaps you were thinking only of the church’s response in the school situation, but it is not fair to paint with so broad a brush. One cannot praise too highly the Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief Teams who have literally gone all over this country and even to other parts of the world to minister during disasters.
Unfortunately, there are too many in local churches who have the attitude you described with the quotes, but they are a minority. As a 76-year-old retired minister now serving as pastor of a small country church in central OK, I still see the good, the bad, and the indifferent.
Mark, yes, the reference to Joplin points only to the superintendent’s request for churches’ involvement within the schools. I updated the post to make that clearer. Thanks for the observation.
Just an encouraging blog – we’re on the right track as a church.
Maureen Small Eaglemont Christian Church
Dear Brother Thank you so much for your blessed Teachings and is much strengthening me and sharing with our people in India. Evangelist Babu
Great post! Tweeted it out!
As an Israeli biblical archaeologist I’m beginning to understand M. Ghandi’s remarks about loving Jesus of Nazareth and his teachings but having issues with Christians. For over three decades I, as a Jewish academic have defended the Christian community against religious fraud which is at times rampant here. Preachers come to the Holy Land, find this and ‘find’ that and working along the line of Seneca ‘academics should be lawyers for the masses’ decided one day, back in the 70’s after being asked by three ministers from the Midwest for help, to speak out to the masses. A handful of us being very outspoken were able to put a damper on much of this fraud under the name of religion and being outside the Christian community, academic and non-religious no one could accuse us of being biased towards one group or another. For us it was purely an obligation towards those whom supported freedom of speech, science and religion. After three or more decades its now clear that it was one big mistake.
Nearly 18 months ago one Canadian film maker along with a Univ. Dept head of Rel. Studies, yes Religious Studies, who claims to find tombs of jesus, his family tomb, and other religious sites in the manner of which many of you cross the street, filed a one million dollar SLAPP legal action against me in order to silence myself and any other academic who has the courage to speak out. This was after they sent a threatening letter to a Dean of a prominent Christian university over his highly critical book review.
As I have spoken out for decades I knew that it was just a phone call or two to the foreign Christian groups here to receive assistance in combating this. These are the same groups who ‘love biblical archaeology’ in particular when it supports their cause however when I now turned to them, many of whom know me, they refused to be involved in anyway whatsoever. Seems Jews for Jesus, West Bank settlers, many of whom have no respect for Christianity but love that Evangelical and Pentecostal money are more important than a handful of Israeli academics fighting for their cause. Were starting to understand Ghandi’s remarks…
Aside from one Christian family, all financial support has come from secular Jews and one Buddhist.
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