“All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him…” – 1 Samuel 22:2
A friend of mine joked the other day that this will be the theme verse of Hope, the church we’re planting.
In this verse, David has the odds stacked against him, running from the powerful king and his army.
David’s trying to lead a movement, and these are the folks who show up. Those in distress, in debt, and discontent.
Sure sounds like a church to me.
Lately I’ve been walking around Astoria, specifically around the area that we’ll be having our Sunday gatherings for Hope. I’ve been praying that God leads me to the right people to talk to, guiding my steps and my conversations at every turn.
Yesterday, I happened to walk outside of a dry cleaner, and there were three people gathered, two gentlemen and a woman with a young child. I knew immediately that I was supposed to talk to them.
So I introduced myself.
“Hi, my name is Drew, I’m a pastor and I live on Roosevelt Island with my wife. We’re starting a church in this neighborhood. Would you be interested in being part of it one day?”
The three of them looked at each other, bemused perhaps by my gumption, searching for a way to respond without laughing out loud.
“We’re not church people,” the woman said, with the others nodding in agreement. Then they laughed.
I laughed too, because it was funny that they thought the question was funny.
Then I asked, “Why not? Do you think this neighborhood could use another church?”
“Oh for sure this neighborhood needs churches!” The woman responded. “But we’re not church people.”
One man (I’ll call him Brian) chimed in, “I’m not gonna lie, I like the bottle, and I’ve been drinking since I was a teenager. I really don’t want to change.”
The other man (I’ll call him Tom) said, “I haven’t been to church. I was locked up for 20 years and there really hasn’t been a reason for me to go to church.”
The woman (I’ll call her Cynthia) laughed and said once more, “We’re not church people.”
One of the reasons I’ve fallen in love with church planting is because it’s an opportunity to reach and serve more people, a way of revitalizing the Church’s mission to speak and demonstrate the good news of Jesus in tangible ways.
If you check out this article by Tim Keller, you can see why church planting is an important dynamic for continual growth and advancement of the gospel, particularly for very people who are “not church people.”
Lyle Shaller puts it this way: “The single most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven is planting new churches.”
For those of you put off by the word “evangelist”, it’s a word that literally comes from the greek words “good”, and “news” or “messenger of”.
I think we could all use a little more good news in this city. I think we could all use more good messengers, too.
“What if I told you that you are church people, but you just didn’t know it,” I said.
They looked at me skeptically, but interested.
“Because here’s what I believe about you. I believe that deep down you’re willing to give God a chance if he showed you he was real and powerful. I believe that if he revealed himself to you in such a supernatural, life-giving way, you’d follow Him anywhere.”
“What if I told you that despite what you’ve done in the past, God has something new for you? What if I told you that ‘church people’ are just messed up people with broken pasts and presents who believe that somehow, God is in our midst and inviting us into a new reality, a new life?”
“What if I told you that we’d also have free donuts and coffee at our church gatherings in homes and on Sundays?”
We all laughed.
We talked for over 30 minutes. People passed by and said hello, almost every person asking Brian if he had some beer, to which he would reply, “No, but let me introduce you to this Father.”
“Just call me Drew,” I would say.
We spoke of the suffocating grind of the city, the broken families that we see and experience ourselves, the need for hope where this is none.
We spoke of Jesus and how He gives life. We spoke of how our neighborhoods need something, anything to revitalize us.
As our time came to a close due to errands that needed to be run, I asked, “Can I pray for you?”
“Sure,” they responded. “Why not?”
One by one, I prayed for them. Brian who was a self-described drunk. Tom who was the self-described ex-con. Cynthia who was the self-described “just trying to survive” person. I even prayed for the young 2 year-old grandson of the woman.
I don’t remember exactly what I prayed, but I knew I was asking God to guide my lips and my words, to speak truth and love over these kind people, and communicate whatever God wanted me to say.
I know one word that I continued to pray was “Hope.”
As we finished praying the Cynthia was in tears and the men were smiling.
As we were saying our goodbyes, Brian said with the others nodding in agreement, “We’d love to come to the church. When does it start?”