My heart’s desire is that churches would strive to be FOR the community, not just IN the community. Of my own church, I regularly say, “We need to be First Baptist Church FOR Seymour, not just First Baptist Church IN Seymour.” Many times, churches become prominent historic fixtures in the community. For those outside the church, they serve as landmarks for directions and house memories of days gone by. I believe the church is meant to be more than a reminder of God’s faithfulness and compassion in the past, but also a manifestation of His gracious presence in the here and now. Over the past few days, I have been encouraged by the flurry of activity at First Baptist. In very clear and tangible ways, the love of Christ was offered to the community through this family of faith.
THE CHURCH FEELS ALIVE!
On Thursday afternoon, we welcomed a mission team of 25 youth and adults from Delphi United Methodist Church. They came to Seymour as part of a Serve 365 mission trip during their fall break. Over the course of three days, this team demonstrated the love of Jesus at Provisions, the Clothing Center, the Boy’s and Girl’s Club, Anchor House, and the Orphan Grain Train. It was our honor and privilege to house, feed, and organize service opportunities for this group.
Things got even more exciting at FBC on Thursday evening. For the past few months, it has been our privilege to host the Seymour High School football team’s weekly dinners every Thursday night. So, at approximately 6:30pm dozens of hungry football players and coaches made their way into the Fellowship Center for dinner. At the same time, the Delphi UMC mission team returned from their afternoon of service and made their way into one of our Sunday school classes for dinner. Shortly thereafter, the board of directors from the Clothing Center arrived for their monthly meeting. So, on a Thursday evening, every light in the house was on at First Baptist Church as groups from the school, the community, and the state came together. As I passed a church member in the hall, I said, “This is a happening place tonight. We have a packed house.” She excitedly responded, “I know! Isn’t it great? The church feels alive!”
The flurry of activity hit a crescendo on Sunday evening as we hosted our annual “Trunk or Treat” event for the community. I arrived just before the event was scheduled to begin, and already there was a line from the door of the church stretching out the length of our parking lot. For the better part of two hours, we ushered costumed children and their families into and around our Fellowship Center to play games, receive candy, eat hotdogs, and drink hot chocolate. As they exited the building, we invited them to take a hayride. About half-way through the event, I had to make a run to the local store for more candy and hotdogs. As I was walking through the aisles, I saw a family watching a video on their phone. I couldn’t help but hear the conversation. They were watching the Facebook Live video we had posted minutes earlier at the event and were talking about how awesome they thought it was that we offered such an opportunity to the community. Moments later, back at the church, I saw the same family in line with their children.
So, what’s the purpose of these different events? The purpose is to create opportunities to demonstrate the compassion and grace of Jesus to our community. Providing a place for students to sleep on a mission trip, offering a place to eat for a local football team, and even giving some candy to children from the community are acts of grace that add up over time. In Matthew 10:42, Jesus Himself said, “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” In Matthew 25, Jesus goes further telling His followers that when we do the little things for others, we have done them for Him. All of these little things we’ve done are avenues through which we demonstrate the compassion and kindness of Christ.
If we are going to be a church FOR the community we must be willing to go out into the community and to welcome the community to come IN with us.
How did we do it? What’s the secret? We opened the doors and welcomed them with open arms and open hearts. The key, it would seem, is to welcome people as they are. Do we hope to eventually share the reasons behind what we are doing? Of course! Our desire is that people would come as they are and leave just a little more like Jesus. The goal at the outset is simply to create points of contact. If we are going to be a church FOR the community we must be willing to go out into the community and to welcome the community to come IN with us. As we open our doors to offer life to the community, perhaps they’ll bring some life to us.