Learning to Be the Church
Beth and I settled into a booth for our girlfriend time and shared a gift card for a soup and salad lunch. After prayer to bless our food, I asked, “So what’s happening at your church these days?”
“I’m not going to church anymore,” Beth answered.
“What? Why not? Did something happen?”
“No. Not really. I just found a better way to do church.”
For me, going to church has always been a pleasure and a freedom I don’t take lightly, something I look forward to each week. The worship music that helps me forget everything else and focus on God, the teaching, the opportunity to give, visiting with other people who believe like I do – all of these blessings I find at my church.
Beth and I belonged to different churches, but like me – I thought she made a special effort to attend every week. Evidently, something had changed.
Beth explained, “I still appreciate the institution of the church and someday, I may return. But for now, I’m spending Sunday mornings just being the church. My congregation is in my neighborhood.”
“Oh,” I said, suddenly understanding. “You’re part of a house church fellowship?”
“No, and don’t get all judgmental on me. I can tell you’re about to put on your religious hat and quote a scripture to me.”
Feeling my face turn red, I said, “Okay. No judgments. I’m listening.”
Beth finished her soup and took a bite of her bagel. “My neighbor down the street works from home 24/7. And my schedule is crazy at the hospital. I’m working now as the supervisor for the trauma unit, usually 12 hour shifts, on three days and off two days. But for some reason, I seem to often have Sundays off.”
I finished my salad and pushed my empty bowl toward the end of the table. “So you have Sundays off, but you’re doing church in the neighborhood. I’m still listening.”
“My neighbor works from home because she has a special needs child. Her husband is a truck driver and he’s gone for days at a time. So on Sundays, I stay with her son while she runs errands and gets out of the house for a while. He’s a sweet little boy, but it’s difficult for her to find a baby-sitter and since I’m a nurse – it’s a no brainer.”
As Beth went on to describe the little boy and her care for him, her face shone with the joy of doing something worthwhile. I could tell that my friend not only knew she was doing a service for this family, but she was also serving Christ.
Beth’s story was a perfect example of the command in Isaiah 58:7 to “Share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter, when you see the naked to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood.”
I wondered what might happen in our communities if we spent one Sunday per month doing service projects rather than meeting in our comfortable sanctuaries. What kind of influence might we have if we loved our neighbors by meeting their practical needs instead of isolating ourselves in a building where we felt accepted by others of our own kind?
What difference might it make if instead of planning more church programs, we initiated more projects next door?
Jesus challenged us to consider his words, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
When Beth cares for a special needs child and gives his mother a much-needed break, she cares for a child that Jesus loves. She obeys what the heart of the Savior tried to tell his disciples.
I gave Beth a hug and told her I was proud of her. Then I decided to be more proactive to look for ways to minister practical love to others, even if it meant changing my schedule and moving out of my comfort zone.
I knew it was important for me to be part of a church body, to use my spiritual gifts to encourage the family of God. The Apostle Paul reminds us that the “Manifestation of the spirit is given for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). We each have a role to play in the church and when we don’t, it leaves a gap.
But I also needed to pay attention when the Spirit said, “Love your neighbor. Take care of the least of these. Share your heart with those who need Christ.”
If that meant changing my schedule and helping someone on a Sunday morning, then so be it. I could still be part of my church on another day of the week.
It isn’t an easy juggling act, but I’m hoping to keep an open mind and watch for opportunities to be the hands and feet of Christ.
Have you ever “been the church” in your neighborhood? If not, how can you start?
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