For several weeks, Uth had been teaching a sermon series on the Book of James. In preparation for James 2:14-26 -- the "faith without works" passage -- the pastor sensed a stirring to try something different at First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla.
"While I was working, praying and reading through this passage of James, it struck me that it's one thing for people to be aware of needs in their neighborhood or city, but it became very clear to me that there are needs right in our worship center.
"I figured, if we were going to be doers of the Word, then let's start with those who sit next to us."
With that, Uth concluded his teaching on the passage during the church's Sept. 5 worship, then asked everyone in the 3,500-seat auditorium with immediate needs to come forward.
At first, people approached the stage slowly, but soon dozens began streaming forward. In minutes, nearly 200 people lined the stage in need of groceries, auto repairs, dental work, legal assistance, home repairs, transportation and bills needing to be paid.
"As they started coming down the aisle, I was so moved by their humble spirits and the fact that so many of our people were wanting," Uth said. "There was a brokenness about them that stirred my heart."
He sent the people to a side room where volunteers could record their needs and, in the meantime, he told the congregation, "In a few moments, those dear people are going to be returning. Our pastors will announce their names and needs. If you feel led to help someone, please get out of your seats, come forward and introduce yourself to that person."
When those needing assistance returned to the stage where their names and requests were announced, twice as many people from the congregation came forward to help, leaving Uth in awe: "... it so overwhelmed me that I could barely contain myself."
"Seeing our 'givers' respond so generously was extraordinary," Uth recounted. "The moment that really got to me is when I saw a young couple come forward. I was familiar with this couple and knew they were struggling. Yet, they walked up to another young couple to help, and soon all four of them were weeping."
Since that day, the Orlando church has been receiving new requests and has been working on a system to match those in immediate need with those willing to help.
"The very first person who came for help later said to me, 'I thought this church would do what other churches do -- give me a box and send me out the door. But tonight, you loved me, you became my family.' To me, this was the ultimate compliment," Uth said. "On the other side, I had a couple in their 70s come up to me and say, 'We've have been going to church all our lives, but we've never seen the church become the body of Christ as much as we saw it today.' How do you even grasp something like that?"
For Uth, the outpouring of love and generosity has taught him a practical lesson.
"It showed me that the people of God have an awesome heart to serve. God's people have a desire to follow and obey, but sometimes we as church leaders have a tendency to limit them by not giving them the opportunity. I encourage pastors to simply teach the Word and then create an opportunity for the people to obey it. If pastors will do this, I guarantee they will be amazed by how willingly their own people will step up and yield to God's Word."
David Ettinger is a freelance writer in Orlando, Fla.
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