As I walked into the first church I served as a pastor, I wandered through an old office located just behind the sanctuary. Years before, the heavy stained glass windows had been replaced with large clear panes of glass. These windows invited those inside to look out at the surrounding community. When I looked out the window, I saw a series of small wooden homes near the church. A few of these homes were obviously older. Some hadn’t been cared for in years, and most had a dilapidated car or two in their gravel driveways.
One of these homes stared me in the face every time I walked from our parsonage across the street to my office, which was next door to the church. When the weather was nice, the family who lived there could often be found sitting on the porch. I would feel the tug of the Holy Spirit saying, “how can you preach and not reach out to the people I’ve placed directly in your line of sight day after day?” Finally, I stepped out of my comfort zone and into obedience. I walked the few steps next door, introduced myself as the pastor of the church, and engaged in small talk before telling them they’d be welcome to join us in worship anytime. I learned this was a rental property, and later found out that the people who lived there shifted almost seasonally. This family moved not long after.
One night as we slept, some bored teenager decided it would be a good idea to spray paint our sidewalk with a few choice words. Of course, it wasn’t long before I was kneeling alongside a friend from the congregation who doubled as our treasurer, mission director, and pianist. As we cleaned the graffiti off the sidewalk, a little boy who had just moved into the house next door came and stood beside us. He asked, “who owns this church?” We both laughed as I said, “well, nobody really. It belongs to God.” He said, “oh no, that’s not right. Somebody owns it. Every building is owned by somebody.” I tried to find an analogy and pointed to the high school across the street and said, “it’s like the school. Who do you think owns the school?” to which he replied, “the principal owns the school!” My friend pointed at me and said, “then I guess he owns this church!”
It wasn’t long after this conversation that the kid began attending on Sunday mornings. It was fascinating to see how a young man who’d never stepped foot in a church experienced everything in worship on a Sunday morning. I looked out during the sermon one day, and he had his feet propped up on the pew in front of him. One day as we made time for the congregation to greet and shake hands, a watchful member noticed he’d made his way to the front where our traditional church had candles burning on the altar. He was moving his hand quickly back and forth over the flame! To our church’s credit, people didn’t get worked up and gently helped him understand what to do and when.
My wife worked for a local dentist with a generous soul. He told her that he enjoyed giving out bikes to kids at Christmas, and she immediately thought of our new young friend. I walked back to the house next door and knocked on the door. The boy lived with his grandmother and she came to the door. I reintroduced myself and asked her how she was and told her how much we enjoyed having her grandson at church. Then I asked her if she had any plans for Christmas. She began to choke up a bit and told me that she was raising him and a granddaughter and it wasn’t going to be a year she could afford much for them.
I proceeded to tell her about how a local dentist, who wanted no credit, would be willing to buy both of her grandkids a bike and that I would place them in her storage shed a few days before Christmas. She immediately began to cry, thanking me for this blessing. But I knew. It had nothing to do with me. It started first when the Spirit nudged me and invited me to reach out to the house next door. Every tale of grace and blessing starts with obedience to a whisper