Monday, June 21, 2010

After the Banquet

So this Sunday Zion went to the Douglas Terrace Apartments (DTA) and put on a picnic banquet of fried chicken, fruit, assorted sides and good things to eat.

For us, this was an exercise in trust and obedience: would we trust the Holy Spirit and go; and in obedience to the Word, Lk 14, “when you give a banquet, invite those who can’t pay you back.”

Thanks to all who showed up to help and especially to those who worked behind the scenes to see to it that we had soccer balls to give away, gift bags with Jesus stuff for the kids, provided live music, and all the stuff we needed to put on the banquet.

Here are my thoughts on the experience and how it impacts the way we do church:

a.) We went in obedience, trusting God and without any expectations about what success looked it, except that He would meet us there.

That makes the evaluation stage on Monday morning difficult. Going without expectations means we had no clearly defined goals except to put on a banquet. Which we did. We have no facts or figures about how many people we served. We don’t know how many people came from our own church, either. I’d estimate we served between 50-60 people who lived in the area. No one was baptized, no one was saved, but we did try hard to embody the grace of God while we played games with the kids and dished out chicken. Perhaps we should be less concerned with statistical evaluation and more concerned with obedience and learn to adjust our expectations appropriately.

b.) “Preach the Gospel always, sometimes use words.”

At DTA, almost everyone is a recent immigrant. Many of the adults don’t speak or understand English. This makes the kids key in communication. It makes it hard to do a mailing, put up understandable fliers or even have a conversation. In this case, the only things we could communicate were via our expressions and body language and actions. Seems to me that in the modern church we’ve put more and more emphasis upon the spoken word. Certainly can’t argue with the centrality of the word. But you’ve got to be it, act it, and live it, too. The words that give eternal life may be less effective from snarly lips.

c.) Sometimes you can’t even give it away.

We estimated that there were perhaps 200-220 residents at DTA. We had a team knock on every single door in the complex. Partly because of language difficulties, partly because we were outsiders, some people would just not come down and eat or play. We played some games of “peek-a-boo” with kids who were fascinated by what was going on below their windows, but we couldn’t go them to come down. Free lunch! “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” It reminds me on a macro-scale of how hard it is to get people to accept salvation in Christ. It’s free. It’s here. It’s the best thing ever. But sometimes, it feels like we can’t even give it away.

d.) Pray over everything, then believe God.

One thing for sure, this event was covered in prayer. It was inspired during prayer, was developed in prayer, was put on in prayer. We prayed and trusted God that people would accept our invitation and come and eat. We prayed and trusted that somehow people would be blessed by God through what we were doing. We prayed and trusted God that on a weekend when we were to get 5 inches of rain, he would somehow provide for the banquet to happen. We prayed and trusted that all the logistics would come together. And everything did come together and people did come and eat on more or less dry ground (because there wasn’t any where else to sit or play). We wound up placing ourselves in a situation this time where there could be no plan B, God had to come through and do it all. And He did.

I do wonder whether or not the church of Jesus Christ has stopped taking risks. Perhaps we’re afraid of looking like amateurs, perhaps we’re afraid of looking like fools, perhaps we realize that people can get hurt easily in situations we haven’t completely planned through. Do high degrees of planning lead to lack of trust?

e.) Don’t be afraid not to be in control of everything.

I tried something new with this event. I tried not to control things or even know about the details. Everyone had their tasks and there was a general vision that was cast and at the right time, the body came together, the supplies appeared and people ate and children played. Sure we had a couple of coordinators. But the overall effect of letting it just “be” was magnificent. When we started to serve food, Zion people just found their places and served. Ditto games. Ditto just being present. It was beautiful.

f.) Let God lead.

God will lead. I think we get program happy and have to “do something.” Why do we do this? Is it to attract people to come to church? Sometimes. Is it to prove our own value? Sometimes. Is it to keep people busy and engaged? Sometimes. What if we just sat around and prayed until God spoke and then we did what he said? It might be maddening from time to time, but it would stop the current trend of loading up people with more and more to do. It would also insure that we were doing what God wanted to bless instead of asking God to bless what we’re doing. Obedience to God requires that we listen to God first so that we know what he wants. I think the church in the west has become too program centric and less effective.

Of course, this leads to another discussion. One about discerning the voice of God. It also leads to another discussion, do you trust the people to whom God is speaking? I think these are the reasons we like to go programmatic. We can do things in general without ever having to deal with the specifics of our own obedience and submission. You can have input into a program. You don’t have so much input when God speaks to someone and you’re asked to come along.
Maybe not everything we do as a church really needs to be done. Maybe there are things the Lord wants to do that we aren’t doing. Maybe we need to let him lead more.

g.) When the body of Christ submits to God’s greater vision, we work together in harmony and there are fewer of the “usual” issues.

The beauty of this event was that nobody wanted to “own” it. It was God’s. We simply followed him. No one argued about where to put up the tables. No one thought the gift bags could’ve been better, no one argued about how much chicken we bought, no one wanted to change venues. No one said we could have had more people if we’d done it differently. It was what it was and it was beautiful. We simply did it. No authority issues because we were all submitting to God and letting the body do its work.

Those who participated and saw it will have their own opinions. I do believe it was a success simply because we were led to do it and we did. People came and were fed. People who live in comparative isolation to the greater culture were visited. People were prayed for whom we hadn’t ever met before. And perhaps a relationship was begun.

Is there a plan to do something else? We’ll see what God says. Thanks for reading. God bless you. PJ

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