by Brady Johnston
Pastor, Bethesda UMC
Aug. 29, 2013
I stood in the living room, where beneath my feet was a rotted out floor and above my head were the remains of a ceiling damaged over the years by an even worse roof. There were holes in the walls, and the carpet smelled from years of mold and cigarette smoke. Part of me would’ve rather been anywhere else in that moment, but still I knew I was standing on sacred ground.
You see, this wasn’t the first time I’d set foot in a home like that one. Several years earlier, a couple of church members and I stood in a similar home wondering how we could possibly help the family who lived there. After a month of heavy discussions and prayer as a church, we voted unanimously to build them a new home. The community was so excited to serve that the home was paid for before we even laid the foundation. Three months later we handed over the keys to a new home to a family overwhelmed by such a generous gift.
The decision to build that home was the greatest leap of faith most of us at Bethesda have ever taken, but it wouldn’t be the last. More recently, we recognized the need to renovate the New Haven Family Shelter in Mineral Wells. If conditions at the shelter worsened, the owner feared it would be condemned. The enormity of the work begged the question: Can a church that averages 140 in worship renovate a 10,000 sq. ft. facility? What we discovered was that yesterday’s leap of faith is today’s ordinary step and yes, God was calling us to make a giant leap again. By completing the renovation we could extend the life of the ministry by another 30 years.
Neil Cole said, “If you want to win the world to Christ, you’re going to have to sit in the smoking section.” If we want the grace of God that has touched our hearts to break into the lives of others, we can’t be afraid to embrace the downtrodden. We can’t afford to be afraid of going into homes that make us cringe, because it is to those places that we are called. Jesus has important lessons for us that can only be learned in such places. The lesson He had for me that day, as I stood in that living room, was just how humbling it is to think that what was an uncomfortable hour for me was our neighbor’s everyday life.
What I discovered as I sat and visited in her home was that the physical brokenness of it was symbolic of the spiritual brokenness in her own heart. She felt alienated and forgotten by a world so unconcerned about her plight. However, as the conversation came to a close she changed her tone. “I think God sent the church here to show me that He cares,” she said.
We serve a God who is bold and asks to be bold through us. When a congregation understands that call and surrenders themselves to God, they are a force to be reckoned with. What happened to the house with the rotted floors and moldy ceilings? The people at Bethesda gathered again to discuss how Jesus wanted them to love their neighbor, and we took on another project. I’ll soon be standing in a new home with a new living room, watching the owner’s grandkids run through the halls without fear of breaking through the floor.
Editor’s note: When leaders of a church heed God’s call, they venture out of their comfort zone and beyond sanctuary walls.