Somewhere out there is a five-year-old boy who doesn’t know that right now plans are being made by a passionate group of Christian leaders from a church he’s never heard of to offer a neighborhood Vacation Bible School that will change the direction of his life. The songs he will sing will stick in his mind, the stories of Jesus will enliven his imagination, becoming more familiar with the years. The puppet show will make him laugh, the teacher will make him feel loved and welcome, and the hospitality of those followers of Christ will so touch his Mom and Dad that they will take a small, unexpected step toward faith.
Somewhere out there is an elderly woman who lives alone. Her family has long since moved far away and she feels like everyone has forgotten her. Her world has shrunk to her small apartment, the weekly trips to the grocery store, and the visits to the doctor’s office. The television has become her best friend and most faithful companion. She doesn’t know it, but right now a nearby congregation has awakened to the calling of God to reach out and to offer a ministry that invites people like her to a weekly lunch and to a chance to serve others. Six months from now she’ll be using her long-neglected skills to knit baby blankets that will wrap medical supplies bound for Central America, and this taste of community and purpose will save her life and give her a rebirth she never imagined possible.
Somewhere out there is a young couple stressed to the breaking point by personal debt. Fear squeezes the life out of them and fills their hearts with unmitigated worry. The exquisite moments of shared intimacy and the simple joy of companionship have given way to non-stop arguments about money, to destructive blame games, and to sleepless nights of pacing and panic. They don’t know it, but right now one of their colleagues is praying for them, and asking God for the right words with which to invite them to come with her to a seminar at her church about managing money. They have no idea that the long path to new life and restored relationship will take them through the doors of a church they’ve never heard of before and into a community that will shape them forever.
Somewhere out there is a teacher who thinks no one else cares about the children she has given her life to serving. She works in the hardest section of town with kids few others would choose to spend their time with. Her schoolroom is rundown, and there’s less money now than ever before to provide the resources she needs to do her job. She has no idea that right now a congregation she didn’t even know existed is preparing themselves for a new ministry that will change her circumstances. She has no idea that the congregation has felt called to make a difference with kids and have decided to adopt a school like hers. She has no way of knowing that six months from now, she will weep with joy as strangers give up their weekend to repaint and refurbish her classroom with her help and encouragement. She cannot now imagine that droves of people she has never met will step forward to volunteer to tutor, to read stories before school, and to coach basketball after hours. She has no inkling of the effect this will have on her and on her students, and how this will become the door by which she rediscovers her own faith in Christ.
Somewhere out there is an idealistic young person who wants to change the world and who isn’t even thinking about church and who maybe even feels anti-church. She doesn’t know it, but right now a congregation which her friend attends is planning an international service project, and in a few months she’ll be invited to participate. It will change her life forever, shape her career and calling, make her rethink her beliefs about God and spirituality, and put her on a path she will walk for the rest of her life.
Somewhere out there is a young man whose border-line mental illness and inability to cope with the basic mechanisms of daily living have caused him to lose his job, to stop taking his meds, and to slip through the cracks of every social, community, and family network. Having fallen through the cracks, he kept falling and falling and falling until now he sleeps on the streets, carries cardboard for bedding, and digs through trash bins for dinner. He has no idea, nor do his Mom and Dad who lost touch with him years ago, that right now a congregation is gearing up to offer a shelter and food program in cooperation with other churches, and that one day this ministry will change his life. He cannot imagine that one day in the future as he is served a meal, someone will engage him in conversation, treat him as human, listen to his story, learn his name, and reconnect him to his family and to the social networks that will allow him to live again a basic life with dignity. He has no idea that God, working through people desiring to follow Christ, will restore him to a life he barely remembers.
Somewhere out there in an African village a young girl plays in bed with her little sister, both of them safely covered by a mosquito net bought by the youth of a small rural church in the Midwest, a youth group who felt called to make a difference for Christ. No one can see it now, but she will grow up to become a doctor herself, relieving the suffering of thousands. She will live a long and full life, a life that never would have been possible without a simple net and many generous young hearts across the globe.
Somewhere out there…..
I love stories of churches risking, trying new things, reaching beyond their own walls and into the community. They stretch themselves, move out of their comfort zones, and make a difference in the lives of others. Like Jesus’ parable of the sower, they cast seeds, and some seeds fall on rocky ground or get gobbled up by hungry birds or strangled by weeds. But some seeds find amazing readiness, fertile dirt, receptive soil, and something comes to fruition beyond what any of us can imagine.
People ask me what I hope happens when a congregation focuses on the Five Practices. What’s the goal? That people buy more books? That pastors preach a sermon series? That conferences hold workshops? That church councils focus more on the essentials of ministry than on salaries and leaky roofs and liability insurance? That more Christians understand the purpose of the church? That congregational leaders become more mission-driven, outward focused? That more people attend church? That people give more money to mission? There are many layers and levels of fruitfulness, many desirable outcomes, and many ways to articulate goals.
When I picture Five Practices succeeding, I don’t see big conference gatherings, smiling pastors with good material to preach on, or happy church committees with well-developed strategic plans – as important as these things are.
Rather I imagine in my heart, that somewhere out there…..somewhere in Canyon, Texas, or San Diego, California, or Maputo, Mozambique, or Williamsburg, Virginia, or Port Huron, Michigan…somewhere out there in a town like yours and in a neighborhood near you, is a person who has no idea of the change that is coming his way and the new life that will transform him forever. I picture the person unknowingly prepared by the spirit of God to receive the embrace of Christ that will be offered when our churches come alive with the mission of Christ.
Somewhere out there is a person God plans to use you to reach. Somewhere out there is a person God will use to change your life as you reach them. Somewhere out there is a person for whom Christ died,