Sunday night, we parked the Great Commission.
It’s fourth of July weekend, lots of people traveling out of town on vacation, and with one of the biggest holidays of the year, the reasonable thing to do would be to alter the Sunday format to accommodate according to lowered expectations.
About a month ago, I pitched the idea to take advantage of the 4th of July weekend by taking our church gathering to the biggest park in town and reach out to the community. With the recent convention travels, VBS, and a busy June, very little time was allowed (one week to be exact!) to plan what I was calling “Worship @ the Park” (not to mention that half our staff would be en route overseas with a team to labor among an UPG). For those of you who do not know, Grace is not a large church, so there was no cool signage, props, or video promotionals. In fact, the fliers we passed out was made by yours truly with MS Word and an old Flickr photo. 🙂
I issued an open call to folks of Grace to join me on Saturday morning to knock on every house in the immediate neighborhood. Being the 4th and with a heat index of 105+ degrees, I was fortunate to be joined with four other people who for the next two hours lost a couple pounds of water weight and gained the hearing of several families encouraged to hear about a church wanting to bless their community.
Missional on the cheap means utilizing games you can find in your garage, like an old beach volleyball net and kickball bases from the “Brister Field of Dreams,” and of course, wiffle ball. And the boomin’ sound system was my iPhone playing Pandora radio (and Shai Linne) on 50-watt computer speakers (yeah baby!). 😉 Arriving at the park around 1:45 p.m., a small group of teenager boys where hanging out at our pavilion ready to get their game on. So we set up the volleyball court, put out the bases, and let the games begin.
Volleyball to kickball to football to basketball, we worked our way around the park, and over the next couple of hours we had picked up about 6-8 guys along with 3-4 families who came via the fliers. The games were followed up with the grilling of hotdogs and hamburgers and the celebration of a 90-year-old saint and one of Grace’s charter members (of 26 years). Interestingly enough, more families and teens approached us and asked if they could join us, and we gladly spread the banqueting table of baked beans, cole slaw, and a whole host of fixin’s to go on their burgers and hot dogs.
The conclusion of the evening’s shindig at the park was a public worship service including those whom we had engaged during that afternoon. I pulled the djembe out of the car, and along with an acoustic guitar and “lay” worship leader, we led a gathering of about 120 folks in singing such songs as “Before the Throne of God Above,” “In Christ Alone,” “Made Me Glad,” and “I Will Glory in My Redeemer.” I decided to preach on Matthew 5:3 about the blessedness of being spiritually bankrupt and entirely dependent upon the mercy and grace that is abundantly rich and free in Christ Jesus. Being in the main pavilion where the water fountains were located, teams of soccer players walked right up into our meetings to take a drink, and to my pleasant surprise, a few of the soccer players stayed behind thirsty for more. When I concluded my message and approached them as to why they stayed, they told me, “We heard the Word of God being preached, and we did not want to walk away.” After probing into their spiritual condition, they shared that they both had recently been converted three months ago, and I encouraged them to press on to know the Lord and live for the glory of Christ.
I haven’t heard all the God-encounters from Sunday’s worship at the park, but one in particular caught my attention. One of the families hanging around in the pavilion could not get over the love and generosity being shown to them, so one of our members explained the gospel of Jesus Christ to her family, explaining how we are all beggars who have nothing to bring but our sin in exchange for the mercy of God in Jesus–an almost identical presentation to what I shared later that evening. When I concluded my prayer at the end of the preaching, she went straight to him and said, “He said the same message you told me an hour ago. How did you guys do that?” Of course, we didn’t. God did.
The story behind that brother who shared the gospel with her is that he recently came to Grace after having lost everything in another state–his job, house, investments–seeking to start over with nothing but his wife and two kids. The financial hardship and challenges he and his family face right now are serious and severe, although in our neck of the woods their story is tragically becoming more and more common. You would never know it, however, as he was on mission embracing neighborhood kids, sharing the gospel with parents, and getting messy for the mission.
With no budget, a little time to plan, and a lot of love for our community, God was kind to keep drawing folks in whether it was the fliers, the games, the food, the singing, or the preaching of the gospel (around 20-25 unbelievers I believe). In a night where perhaps it would have been easy to write off a holiday-weekend Sunday night service, God blessed the “parking” of the Great Commission in being able to share the gospel and love the lost through means that would have otherwise not been available had we been in a church building or dismissed the opportunity altogether.
Parking the Great Commission was not “successful” because we had a big budget, campaign, cool band, or amazing games. I’m led to believe that people are not as persuaded by those things as we think they are. What they are convinced by is the love of Christ communicated in real, tangible ways as they behold the church in action as well as being witnessed to in word and in deed. A resurgence of the Great Commission does not need to be propped up by programs, personalities, or principles of church growth; rather, it needs a passion for the gospel, the mission, and the lost that provides more than what money can buy and points them clearly to Jesus our Treasure and Savior.
Keep it simple, centered, and strong, and park the Great Commission at the heart of the church. Jesus will send you to the heart of your city where darkness needs light, despair needs hope, and death needs life.