Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A church that does it all

I was first introduced to my present church back in 1980 by a fellow first-year student at the University of Pittsburgh whom I met through the school's Inter-Varsity chapter. Two years later, when I was searching for another church and I was living on campus, I visited several times.

In those days, however, it was an almost-all-white, drive-in assembly which focused on maintaining conservative doctrine and foreign missions. Nothing wrong with either, of course, but I decided not to join then in part because I wasn't sure if I could fit in.

Eighteen years later, at a time when I was again church-shopping, I decided to give it another shot. By the end of that service, I knew that I had found home.

You see, the church had changed drastically in that time. Before my return, the then-new and current lead pastor encouraged the church to minister to the largely-poor and African-American neighborhood where it was located, in the process tearing down the spiritual stronghold of racism that had previously gripped its membership. On top of that, the church also began focusing upon "social justice" -- take that, Glenn Beck -- because of some of the political decisions that left that immediate area destitute. Eventually, members of the church began businesses that employed folks in the neighborhood; some years ago it received an award from the area Chamber of Commerce.

Learning that I was attending her old church, she came to Pittsburgh for a visit 2 1/2 years ago -- she has spent much of her life on the mission field and hasn't lived here since she graduated from Pitt in 1984 -- and decided to check things out. Even with its emphasis on neighborhood ministry, which I certainly agreed with, I assured her: "Don't worry -- it's still heavily involved in missions." (Which, with updates from four different missionaries, was borne out that day.)

I have come to appreciate my present church, which has grown in attendance about 10-fold in the past quarter-century, because of its willingness to do everything that the LORD tells us to do. In addition to what I've already mentioned, it has always believed in reaching the "lost" in this city. This is not to say that every person is involved in every ministry -- that would be impossible -- but there's an awareness of God's entire agenda and his/her place in it.

I bring this up because I've noticed that most churches don't do this because of what's considered "spiritual." White evangelicals, while rightly concerned about "saving souls" here and abroad, usually fail to recognize the suffering of people in this country of plenty. Black Christians, on the other hand, found themselves often in the forefront of social change, by necessity, but suffered from theological shallowness and a focus on entertainment during worship services.

Given these strengths and weaknesses, it just makes sense that folks should come together and build each other up. After all, even though we have many members, we belong to one Body, and all the parts have to function properly.

A former member of my church who is now a pastor in California noted that, when he was in seminary, four groups of students prayed with and for each other. One was focused on missions, another on social justice, two others had concentrations in other areas that I don't remember now. But all were aware of the passion of the others even though they was different.

For my part, though I've always been aware and have contributed financially, I have never had an inclination to do foreign missions myself. About 25 years ago I was wrestling with God about going overseas but confessed to Him that "I just don't hear the call!" He had to tell me, "No, I am not calling you to the mission field -- I have special work for you." That was all I needed to hear, and I'm grateful to be in a church where I don't have to leave the country to demonstrate my fidelity to God and His Kingdom.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Hi Rick , I love the sound of your church.Most of our churches up here in franklin are small. So, we each chip away a fragments of the giant need, locally and the world. One summer the youth group at $ Square ( I beleive they were fewer than 10) a water buffalo for a village in Butan, Butan has a per capita income in small villages of less than $365 a year. United Brethren, i beleive, sends a youth team every summer to Appalacia to repair houses of some who have no electricity. Living Hope is starting a 13 to 30 discipleship group, and a Friday night service for those who work on Sundays. A do it all church is dream-like for a small city, but, your church is a true Mega Church, and not a high attendance pep rally...Mark David Madden