The Gracious Hospitality of God’s Church

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Church – this is directed to you. If you are a member of a local church, or one who calls yourself a follower of Jesus and thus a member of the Church universal, I beg you to read on. 

We find ourselves in a strange time, dealing with a pandemic, economic upheaval, and societal unrest – now coinciding with hurricane season and an upcoming presidential election. Uncertainty is the “new normal,” and it’s proved difficult to find our footing as we navigate these unfamiliar paths. 

However, none of this is outside of God’s plan! Jesus said, “In the world you WILL have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Equally true is what John records prior to that statement: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace” (16:33). 

The extended period of isolation and quarantine has largely exacerbated our natural bent to look inward and focus mainly on caring for ourselves and our families. Safety has made its way to the top of the priority list in many communities of faith, guiding policies and procedures.

Being safe isn’t bad, and neither is self-care. However, the teachings of Jesus don’t actually highlight either of these tenets in the manner that we often do. In fact, Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25-26)

Paul tells the Galatians that the only thing that counts is “faith working through love” (5:6). In a world full of people scrambling for solid footing and something true to behold, why do we continue to look to the government for solutions, and then complain about its inability to provide? Isn’t this a perfect opportunity for the church to demonstrate that faith at work through loving our neighbors as ourselves? 

It can be difficult to know where to begin, so let’s start with education. No matter where you live, the operation of the public schools has been disrupted in some manner by the pandemic. Regardless of whether or not you have children enrolled in the public schools, a Christian’s love of neighbor should extend to the thousands of people trying to work and learn in these systems. It’s simply not okay to only make sure that our own children are okay. 

I recently read a news story about the need for Community Learning Centers to support students in our public school system during the current period of remote learning. This task is difficult enough for any household to manage, but particularly challenging for those who are already underserved and under resourced. I’ve seen the vast inequities present in our schools during my fifteen years in education, and it’s sadly unsurprising that thousands of students in our county never logged on to learn last spring. This remains a concern now – and even if these students are able to log on, how do they stay engaged sitting in front of a screen every day?  

Teaching is difficult under regular circumstances – and trying to engage students in remote learning is a herculean task. So let’s not add any complaints about the public school system. Our public school teachers and administrators deserve our utmost respect for doing the best they can in these uncharted waters. Instead, let us offer ourselves as servants in the overwhelming endeavor to care for thousands of students and families in our hometowns! 

Is it too much to imagine that our public school systems would never have to ask for community partners, because they automatically assumed that the churches in their city were their partners? Wouldn’t it be lovely if the media was flooded with headlines like this: “Public Schools Uplifted by Offers of Help from Local Churches,” all across our nation? Oh, that the world might witness us loving our neighbors as ourselves – stepping faithfully into gaps that simply cannot be filled by the government!

A quick search revealed that there are at least 150 churches where I live (and that’s a low-end estimate). If each church opened their doors (following Covid guidelines) to provide a safe place and resources for 12-15 students to learn, about 2,000 public school children could be helped. The same follows if only 100 churches provide space and supervision for 20 students. 

It is senseless for church buildings to sit empty when they could house students in need of shelter during this strange period of time. And there are plenty of caring church folks who are ready and waiting for some way to help. Let us not become ensnared in red tape and talk of liability, people of God – let us be gracious hosts with the time and resources we’ve been given. Recall what Jesus told his disciples: “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required” (Luke 12:48). 

More importantly, remember that we do not serve a stingy God! Our God gave up everything for us! Consider these words from Philippians 2:4-8:

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

As you consider how you, your family, and your church community can love your neighbor, pray for the creativity of the Holy Spirit to guide you. Make some phone calls, talk with people who have already done some of this work, and encourage church leaders by bringing ideas to them. But don’t get bogged down with planning the perfect program. At one point I felt paralyzed by the vastness of our societal problems, and a friend of mine encouraged me with these words: “Try a small experiment, with radical intent.” 

We are experimenting in love by opening a few rooms of our church, just a few days each week, to a small group of underserved high school students so that we can help them not only with remote learning but also provide hands-on enrichment activities that fuel their interests. A lot is unknown, yet it has already been encouraging to witness the body of Christ at work.

If you are one who believes that you are radically loved by Jesus, you can – and should – step out in faith during this time. For in that will others know that we are Christians – by our love. 

May His glory be seen in the gracious hospitality of the church.

 

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