Recently, I saw a group of people eagerly passing out snacks and hot cocoa on an Atlanta street. The group was dressed in a uniform of sorts that read “The Church Has Left the Building.”
Surprisingly, the church name wasn't on the shirt. No plug. No quotas being met. No guilt being given in the form of "we fed you now come visit us." That a church would simply want to serve—without any apparent effort to self-promote—is rare, indeed, in our culture today.
The next day I had the pleasure of welcoming David Jeremiah, a pastor from San Diego, to my radio show and told him that story. He loved it and readily understood why I was moved by this demonstration of selfless love and service. For a week earlier his book “Signs of Life”—a book full of inspirational stories like these—was released.
Dr. Jeremiah, like me, stays busy with church and with life. Many times on my way to church I pass a lot of things I don't notice. Maybe it's people and places I don't want to notice because it would take attention and time.
He also told me that in all his years of preaching there was one act of his church that changed his entire ministry: adopting a nearby forgotten public school. This act even prompted some people in the neighborhood to comment to him, "We didn't think your big fancy church cared about this neighborhood."
Dr. Jeremiah’s church is big. His radio and television ministry is successful. He doesn't have to do interviews with local guys like me to promote anything and by nature he's not a chest thumper or promoter. But, at a pivotal point in the ministry of his church, Dr. Jeremiah was gripped with the fact that far too many people simply came to church and after the service left the neighborhood—they were neglecting the obvious needs right in their own “backyard.”
Too often it seems that professing Christians are more busy doing church rather than being the church to our communities. Of course, church is much more than a set of rituals. It isn't the performance of teachers, or musicians, or the pastor. Church is the life of Jesus on display through His people.
During this holiday season of busy-ness, think about where you will be. In meetings? On the phone? Calling on clients? Planning next year’s budget? Cleaning house? Delivering speeches? Delivering babies? Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, try to think of yourself as part of that great, global reach of Christ’s love to a needy world. Our role is to be a stand-in for Jesus—to proclaim the good news of the gospel and to help make the world a better, less threatening place.
My radio show generally features guests with answers to a lot of questions people have with life. I think David Jeremiah's visit answered some questions some of my listeners haven't even been asking. Perhaps the reason is that we’ve been acting a lot like Martha instead of Mary (Lk. 10:38-42). Moreover, perhaps we need to remember just what it is we are to be busy with—the Lord’s work.
Don't forget. The church has left the building. The church is you.