“Hard to really love your neighbor if you don’t at least know them!” – Darrell Sellers
Recently my District Superintendent (pastor to pastors to those non-Nazarenes) posted an article titled “9 Things That Worked in the Church A Decade Ago That Don’t Today.” He then went on to comment that he wishes there would be articles written about what does work. A quick search will find millions of returns on google of people’s opinions, strategies, and maps to success for the growth of a church. There are just as many reasons why churches fail. The following is just an observation of what has worked (and still working) in Washington Indiana. Please realize that every church is different, with different chemistry, different lay people, different obstacles, and different approaches. I will never personally believe there is only one way to solve a problem that is the same in two or more different environments.
The Scripture. We are all familiar to the time where Jesus meets the rather different woman at the well (John 4). That meeting can be broken into parts. The first part is the introduction. Now, many of you that are pastors have or will preach on this passage and find out why she was different. There in the middle of the day, all by herself, and a personal life that sparked conversation in town are some of those things – on top she was a Samaritan and Jesus a Jew! But, nonetheless, Jesus introduced Himself to her. The only person that Jesus told who He was! The point is here they each said “hi” in their own ways. Their relationship starts with a hello.
The What. We, here at Washington Nazarene, look to say hi through a prayer walk. We do this every week on Thursday around lunch time, weather permitting. It is not your typical prayer walk that had become somewhat a fad a while back. We walk our neighborhood with the intent to meet someone new and pray with them if they accept our invitation. We start with prayer asking for the opportunities to meet and pray. Then we walk. For about an hour. It gets hot, I and not in the best physical shape and my partner is in his mid-70s. If we can do it, anyone can! We would love to have a couple more walk with us but for now this is what we have. We say simple hello’s and gauge a response. If they converse, we continue. Nothing pressing and never aggressive. We have faith that Jesus is with us and He will present the opportunity. We have done it for about 3 months now and have had at least one opportunity to meet someone every single walk! Every one of them! If we feel led, we ask to pray. If not we continue on and thank God for the opportunity to meet a neighbor. Hard to really love your neighbor if you don’t at least know them! I always end with appreciation and thanks as I attempt to rehydrate in the air condition of my office!
The Why. We are planting seeds. How many references are there in scripture about planting seeds? Plenty that almost every pastor has preached about it. My last senior pastor has a sermon titled “The Leaky Seed Basket.” We cast our seeds everywhere. But Darrell, don’t you do it to fill your church? I would love to see the pews packed every Sunday! But I do not control that. Matthew 9:37-38 identifies the Lord of the harvest, and that same Lord of the Harvest increases the return based on the very seeds He supplies from 2 Corinthians 9:10. We plant His seeds. He brings the harvest. Galatians 6:9 tells us to not give up planting those seeds. We cannot make the harvest come no matter how hard or how loud we pray for it! The seed is the beginning of the disciple making process. It was the beginning of that conversation between the Son of Man and a Samaritan woman by herself.
The Implementation. What does that look like for you? I am not an athletic person so an Upwards Bounds type of program wouldn’t work for me or this congregation. There are recovery programs all over town here, so that venture would be a drop in an ocean. I found that this congregation loves in a way that leaves a lasting memory. People will walk away knowing the love is pure and lasting. They will never know that love until they meet the sources of that love. They (the congregation) also defined the mission area of this local body was right where we are physically – the neighborhood. I would like to encourage you, the local pastor, that there is a mission for your local church. It does not have to be completed before Wednesday night Bible Study. Find your flock’s strengths, direction and encourage movement in a direction that satisfies both. Start simply. Plant the seed. Then plant another and another and another. He will bring the harvest. And the harvest will be great. It will be more than those in the fields can handle. Seeds must hit the fields first!
Motivational speakers often quote a Chinese proverb that states “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” We remember that Paul once wrote I have finished the race and fought the good fight. James teaches all about endurance. All these things start with one simple action. One simple step, One small seed.
Go and plant!
Darrell Sellers, Pastor at Washington Church of the Nazarene in Washington, IN