If you visited our church a couple of weeks ago, you would have experienced a Sunday with a difference. Instead of seeing people gathering to sing and listen to a sermon, you would have seen them scattering in two’s and three’s in cars, on bikes and on foot – some with food, some with shovels and spades and others with guitars. Sound a little odd? I guess it does, unless you understand the bigger picture.
We started out this year with the launch of our new mission: God’s grace, to us, for the world. Let me break that down briefly. God’s grace is the transforming power of God which comes by way of the gospel. And it’s all about Jesus. We make a big deal about that each and every week. The to us part describes the community of people who the gospel creates – the church of God which is being built up through the ministry of the Word, mutual service and exercise of our spiritual gifts. For the world describes the mission or task of the church. This wonderful, saving grace is not to be hoarded, but shared with those who don’t know Jesus.
Most churches are strong on the first two. But they tend to be weak with the third. That is because by default all their energies are directed internally, to their own needs – so much so that they forget about the people who live around them. These are the very ones God is concerned about! And he wants us to share the good news with them.
So how do you mobilize a church of over 250 people to be more outward-focused? Well that’s a mission in itself! And there’s no magic bullet for it. We are trialling a few new things here at Grace. One of things we trialled was canning a morning service and sending everyone out to bless and serve our community. This sounds great on paper but when you consider our age range – 80 years down to 8 weeks, we were going to have to be creative. So, this is what we did:
- We contacted the Tasman District Council to ask if we could send teams onto the cycle ways to pick up rubbish and pass out gift packages of water bottles and muesli bars to passing cyclists and walkers. They were amazed we’d do this and even supplied us with the rubbish bags
- We ordered a bunch of high-viz vests with our church logo imprinted on the back for the work crews to wear
- We bought a few hundred sausages for cooking on BBQ’s on the cycle way and local skatepark
- We organized a muffin-making brigade to bake hundreds of home-made muffins
- We ordered 500 colourful gospel tracts to go with the muffins and snack bags
- We contacted the local Retirement homes and asked if we could bring in a team to sing to and bless the elderly
- We also contacted the Nelson Hospital and Police Station and asked if we could come in to thank their workers for their contribution to the community
- We mapped out streets in Richmond city to take gift packages to those who are working on Sunday (Gas stations, auto parts stores, liquor stores, motel staff etc)
- We appointed a prayer team which would stay on base and pray for the entire operation and for door to be opened
When people arrived on Sunday morning they were directed to a board with sign-up sheets where they selected which area they wanted to serve in. Then they met with their team to discuss a plan on how they would go about it. After packaging up containers of muffins, tracks and snack packs, they headed off into the community.
The plan was simple: bless people! Give a simple explanation of what we are doing (as well as why we are doing it) and give them some morning treats. We didn’t know how the whole thing would go – whether it would fly or it would flunk. And we didn’t know what conversations or opportunities might open up. We simply put the whole thing to the Lord in prayer and asked HIM to do with it as He willed.
After we were done, we all met back at the church for lunch and to share some stories. Here are a few snippets:
One small team visited a Campervan park close to our church. When they approached one couple a woman asked, “Do you give away anything else than muffins – like prayer?” (I’m serious – that’s exactly what she said). It had been a rough week for her. Her husband has a heart condition and her son is going through a separation. She had asked God to send her someone that day. He did. Rowena and Anisha were delighted to pray for her.
Ken, one of elders, took a small team to assist a woman in our community called Adelle. During a visit with her doctor earlier that week, she shared how she was feeling overwhelmed – even her garden had gone to pieces. Her doctor wrote down a phone number on a piece of paper and said, “If you want help with your garden, call this number.” It was the number of our church. Perfect timing! Ken’s team made short work of it, washing down the outside of her house, pulling out some unwanted weeds, and giving her an instant vege garden. They left with her beaming, and sending an awesome thank you message later that week.
The staff at the hospital really appreciated the muffins and words of encouragement. One of the nurses in A&E pulled out her wallet, thinking we were selling them. How surprised she was to find out they were gifts!
I went with a couple of guys and hit the gas stations and auto parts stores. We sure surprised a few people, often having to repeat ourselves because they didn’t believe they were hearing it the first time. I think that goes to show how little people are appreciated in general – in whatever they do.
The folks at the retirement homes were really touched by those who went to sing and give small bouquets of flowers to the ladies. Tears ran down cheeks as worship songs were sung and words of blessing were given.
Note: not everyone had a wonderful “God” moment and nor did many get into deep spiritual conversations. But some did. And that was our expectation. We were simply vessels in God’s hands. We depended on him to use us as he saw fit. Some doors opened; some didn’t. But everyone we encountered was blessed, in some way or another.
Would we do it again? Absolutely! What we sacrificed by losing a Sunday service (which was small) we gained in forging teamwork and a missionary spirit. The faint-hearted were strengthened, unity was built, and people were hugely encouraged. And those who stayed away that morning – well, they just missed out on seeing God at work – big time.
I’ll leave you with a video clip that shows some of the highlights of the morning (thanks William for your hard work on this):