Ministry and reaching people has always felt as if it were something that were out of reach for me. What I mean is, you can’t truly witness and make a difference unless you travel several days to a third world country and spend 3 weeks there, right? Or I cannot impact the life of another without selling my belongings and donating everything to the church, right?
I cannot place where exactly that was first implanted into my mind, but it has been there for quite some time. Even despite countless sermons about reaching people in your own neighborhood.
There are people even closer than that.
Gary and I typically attend church on Saturday night. You know Gary as the Executive Director of Ability Ministry, but on Saturday night, I just know him as a fellow believer that I enjoy sitting next to during the sermons. Lately, we sit in a lobby-like area and watch the sermon on one of the TVs.
OK, I can almost hear what you are thinking. Why aren’t you sitting in the sanctuary? It isn’t church if you are in some lobby drinking coffee reading the verse from an app on your phone. I have learned the hard way that God puts us where he wants us, not always where we think we need to be. Even if that place is a lobby and not the sanctuary. The truth is that the story of how both Gary and I started to sit upstairs is not coincidence at all.
You see, while sitting upstairs, the Miracles class sits in the lobby with us. The Miracles class is what our church calls our special needs class. I remember being uncomfortable at first, because everyone was so much different than me. I frequently heard strange noises, saw odd and uncontrolled movements, and never knew just what to do. Should I make eye contact? Do I try and shake hands?
That is why I have really enjoyed sitting with Gary, who has years of experience working with those affected with disabilities. With a natural and serving heart, he will take the lead and it provides an example for me.
One Saturday night, a father had brought his son upstairs. We have seen them several times and believed that his son was non-verbal. Always smiling, his sounds seemed to have a pattern to them, at least I could start recognizing them. To both Gary and I, it sounded like he wanted to sing along with the worship. On this Saturday night, they were sitting immediately behind us and when the young man began to sing, Gary turned around to face him. With a smile on his face, Gary started to sing along with him.
And then Gary did something crazy.
He reached out and held the young man’s hand.
Now, maybe it was my limited experience, but I like to think the look I saw in the young man’s face was one of surprise and happiness.
I immediately wondered how many times he has been in and out of our church without eye contact, without a smile in his direction, without someone holding his hand, without someone loving him, without someone letting him know that those were not strange sounds, but joyful noises of worship.
After this took place, we dove into the sermon, which just so happened to be on Luke 14. These specific verses are Luke’s account of Jesus at a Pharisee’s house. One thing Jesus notices at this Pharisee banquet is how all of those in attendance wanted the place of honor at the table. In verse 13, we see Jesus take note. “13The next time you put on a dinner, don’t just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out…” (MSG)
Did you catch that? Jesus wants everyone to be invited.
For me, it was also such a clear reminder that we do not have to look far to find those that most likely never get invited out. It was a call to even go beyond just “noticing” but to invite everyone and to worship and fellowship with all. This was a call to include everyone!
When I was home later that evening, it hit me. You don’t have to travel across the ocean. Sometimes, the person you need to reach is sitting 3 feet away from you.