You hear parents telling kids all the time, "you need to get out of the house and go do something." All kinds of organizations and professional sports leagues are sponsoring the idea that kids should get out and exercise at least an hour day. And it's not just a kid thing. It's not rocket since to buy into the idea that to be healthy, we all need to get out and get some exercise.
So what if we applied that idea to the church?
In the main we spend most, if not all, of our time in the 'house', i.e. our church buildings. We come, sit, sing some songs, listen to a message, fellowship a bit and then get back to our lives. But what if every now and then we got out of that house, out of our sedentary ways and got active on a Sunday morning.
I had that experience recently when I participated in the 'church-at-the-motel.' That is not its formal name, because it has no formal name. It is actually a ministry that has been going on for over 10 years at a motel whose clientele is made up of the down and out, working homeless, poor new arrivals to the city, etc. And the service takes place, not in a conference facility or motel room, but under a carport in the parking lot. Yep, that's right...every Sunday church breaks out under a carport in the parking lot of a low end motel!
Logistically there are a few smaller fellowships, working together with some regulars that are committed completely to the ministry, that take responsibility for the activities of the morning. And they all do basically the same thing: you get there early and set up tables, start to prepare breakfast, bag and set out bread and bagels that have been donated, and basically get everything ready for when folks start showing up.
The 'church service' consists of serving and sharing breakfast with folks from the motel (generally 40 - 50 show up). The 'congregation' consists of some drug addicts, alcoholics, single parent families, young families, couples, elderly folks, those that speak little or no English, and even a couple of vets that are trying to get on their feet. Some are saved, some are not -- not unlike most church services today.
We all eat breakfast together under the carport while a couple of folks sing worship songs. Then there are some prayers, a bible study where the word is opened and all get to participate, an invitation for folks to get individual prayer and an announcement that there is bread (literally) available for them to take back to their rooms. Then we close in prayer, fellowship a bit and get cleaned up.
All in all it lasts about as long as a typical Sunday morning church service, but with a few differences:
Every gets involved. And I do mean everyone...even the kids help out setting up and serving and being involved in the bible study. There is just too much to do, and too many opportunities contribute, to just sit back and watch others do "the work of ministry."
Its giving and receiving. You often hear people say, "I left this or that church because my needs weren't being met." Under the carport it is about much more than my need...it is about the needs of those who in many ways are in more dire circumstances in life than I am. And in the giving, in the serving and extending of myself, my need gets met! My heart is uplifted. My spirit is encouraged. I see God in his lovingkindness, mercy and grace in much sharper relief. In a word, the 'ministering' is bi-directional!
It is essentially non-promotional. Most activities like this are connected to the idea of "outreach" where are going out to the unfortunate to do a good deed and then invite them to our church or fellowship. We hand out tracts, announcements, literature, etc. and we see it as a way of benefiting our group as well as blessing someone else. At the church-at-the-motel, everyone that participates has agreed to lay that kind of activity aside. As one individual explained, "this is not about any particular group promoting itself, it is about family being family." I love that...family being family!
It's not a fluke. For those that are involved, this isn't a one-off deal. It's not about doing good, feeling good and moving on. The group I went with has been showing up every first Sunday of the month for years to minister and be ministered to. And just so you know, it is the whole group, a small house church, that has this commitment. They know many of the folks by name, they know their stories, and they pray for them regularly. To me this is the essence of the love of Jesus!
So there you have it...the church gets out of the 'house' and gets stronger, more encouraged, more engaged, more kingdom-aware and focused. And in the end God gets the glory and increase, because church-at-the-motel doesn't take a multi-million dollar church campus, a toweringly charismatic personality, a professional-quality worship band or a 100-person choir to be impactful. All it takes is some Jesus followers who genuinely care and are willing to get out, get active and do something.
If you want to hear the story of my time at the church-at-the-motel, *click here*. (Just to let you know, the production quality is nothing to write home about, but I think the substance is there.)
And yes, I will be going back there the next first Sunday of the month!