The Church has left the building.
Literally. All over the country, churches are bypassing the pews and taking the gospel out into the streets. And into parks. And schools. And coffee houses. Wherever they might find a crowd. They have gone fishing.
Actually, Jeffrey St. Clair has gone kayaking. The pastor of Mandarin UMC in Jacksonville, Fla., loves the sport, but kept being put on waiting lists for kayaking trips. So he started his own group. On Saturdays, groups of 35-70 join him for an adventure in the water. They begin with prayer, scripture and a brief message and then head out to see fish, eagles, dolphins and sunsets. And along the way, they talk. About life and faith. ("Kayaking with Jeff" by Christine Kumar was published in Interpreter Magazine January-February 2017)
And Kingswood UMC in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, has gone online. About three years ago, Chris Spaeth was prepping for the annual church rummage sale, and she invited a community group of disabled adults to help. Their presence touched many hearts. So Spaeth decided to expand the project. Instead of opening a thrift store, donated items are stored in a trailer on church property and offered for sale online. Proceeds are being used to provide job training skills in computers, retail and marketing to people with disabilities, to people who are unemployed, and to immigrants. ( "New Online Thrift Store Offers Bargains and Jobs" by Anne Marie Gerhardt was published on the Northern Illinois Conference website in August 2012 at https://www.umcnic.org/new-online-thrift-store-offers-bargains-and-jobs/)
And Urban Village Church in Chicago has gone to street corners. For several years, that congregation has celebrated Ash Wednesday by taking six teams of three or four people to public places across town. Throughout the day, they mark crosses of ashes on the foreheads of passersby who otherwise might not have worshipped that day. The Rev. Brittany Isaac says, “We were having conversations with folks that we wouldn’t get to have if we stayed inside the church. One woman, a single parent, was struggling with elderly parents. The burden that she was carrying she would never have gone to a church to talk about.” But she received the ashes while she was out doing her usual business. Then she came back and brought her elementary-aged kids, and they received ashes, too. ("Ash Wednesday-Takin' It to the Streets" was published in Interpreter Magazine 2012)
“Follow me,” Jesus says. “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”
Mission and evangelism, that’s what the church is all about. Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. That is our whole reason for being. But sometimes we make mission and evangelism seem so much harder than they really are. We act as if only very special people can do God’s work. But that’s not true. Jesus calls US. Jesus calls all of us. Sometimes we think we don’t have anything to give. No special talent or great wisdom or much money. “I’m nothing special,” we say to ourselves. “I’m no evangelist. God can’t use me.”
But when Jesus started his ministry, he did not call the prettiest or the smartest or the richest. He called the people who were THERE. He called the people who were there. Jesus was walking beside the sea, and he saw fishermen on the docks. So Jesus called fishermen. He called rough, stinky, uneducated fishermen. He said, “Hey guys, you wanna come with me?”
There is NO special qualification to be a disciple. You do not have to have a college degree. You do not have to have years of Bible learning. You do not have to be particularly holy or good or special. To be a disciple of Jesus Christ, all you have to do is follow. Did you hear that? To be a disciple of Jesus Christ, all you have to do is follow Jesus. All you have to do is get up off your seat and on your feet and go where Jesus leads you. And, sure, that might lead you to Timbuktu, but it might just take you to the nearest convenience store. Or to the bowling alley. Or to the place where you get your nails done. And you were already headed there anyway. Right? Mission is not about where you go. It is about who you follow. It is about your willingness to follow. It is about your willingness to follow Jesus and do what he wants you to do.
When Jesus started his ministry, he called a bunch of fishermen. And you know what he asked them to do? Fish. Fish! Jesus asked fishermen to fish. Jesus asked the people who were THERE to do what they ALREADY knew how to do. Jesus asked the people who were AVAILABLE to do what they were already GOOD at. The only difference is that Jesus asked them to come and do it WITH him. Jesus gave them a REASON to fish. Jesus gave them a PURPOSE.
I started seminary KNOWING that I was called to ministry, but I really was not sure what KIND of ministry God was calling me to do. I thought it might be youth ministry. Or counseling. I really was not sure. I just knew that God was calling. But one Easter morning, we were sitting in worship, and a brass ensemble was playing, and everybody was singing, and my heart was filled with joy. And suddenly, I KNEW! I LOVE worship. I love everything about worship. The music. The people. The scripture. Even a sermon. I love to hear a good sermon. Just like that, I knew what I was called to do. I was called to do the thing I loved most to do. For me, that was worship.
God called me to preach. God called me to share the good news of Jesus Christ. And, yes, part of that call is to share God’s word with you, to build up the body of believers. But part of that call is also to the world. To take the good news to those who have not heard it yet.
But I am not the only one who is called to share the gospel. EVERY Christian is called to follow Jesus. And EVERY Christian is called to share God’s love. But there are so many ways to do that.
Rod Pierce knows how to take good care of his dog, Snickers. So when the company he works for downsized and Pierce took a big pay cut, he worried about being able to take care of Snickers. Pierce was able to work it out, but the experience led him to wonder how OTHER pet owners provide for THEIR animals when money is tight. He shared his concern with the youth of his church, and they decided to host a Pets in Poverty Fair right there at St. Andrew UMC in Toledo, OH. The church collected more than 3,500 pounds of dog, cat and other animal food. They also offered information about good pet care. And they even provided medical care for wounded animals. The food and cash they raised went to a local animal shelter. ("Caring for Pets - and Their Owners" was published in Interpreter Magazine 2012)
The people of St. Andrew UMC have gone fishing. They know pets. They love pets. They are good at taking care of pets. So they are taking what they know and sharing it with others in the name of Jesus Christ.
The church has left the building. They have gone fishing.
Folks, it is time for St. Mark’s to bait some hooks. It is time for us to go fishing. We have been so blessed. God has poured out love on us for years! And God expects us to share that love with others. And we do that, in lots of ways. Supporting the food pantry at Capleville. Welcome baskets for Golden Cross. Reading team at LaPetite Academy. We have opened our doors to a Boy Scout troop and Cub Scout pack. Hosted the community Easter Egg Hunt and Trunk or Treat. And that’s good. It’s REALLY good. And I am very proud of you and all that you do for others. But I think we can do more. I’d like to see us get more involved with the people in our community. That doesn’t mean that I think we need more programs. Everybody has ENOUGH to do. What we have is good, and it’s working. We have planted a lot of seeds. But now it’s time for us to find ways to tend the seeds we have planted.
The Scouts have been meeting here for years now. Do we know any of their names? Do we know where they go to school? Or what their dreams are for the future? So… what if we formed a Scout adoption program? Each of us gets the name of one of our Scouts and starts to pray for him, maybe get him a pack of beef jerky for his next camping trip, send him a note of encouragement every now and then? What if we invited the Scouts and their fathers to come to the UM Men dinners? What if we hosted a Father-Scout picnic in June?
These are just ideas. Some possibilities for us to consider. There is no shortage of need. The potential for ministry right here in Windyke is astronomical. There’s a whole world of hurting folks out there. People are drowning in sin and fear and confusion. You know that. You SEE that. These folks are your friends and neighbors, your family. We don’t have to go LOOKING for people who need a Savior. We just need to throw out a lifeline to the people around us who are already calling out for help. Cause that’s what it means to fish for people.