A tsunami of debris engulfed the city blocks surrounding the World Trade Center. Just prior to this wave of debris, smoke rose in the New York City skyline as both towers were struck by hijacked commercial airliners on Sept. 11, 2001. Thousands attempted to escape the chaos of the enflamed towers. While hordes of people were panicking as they ran away from the direction of the twin towers, heroically others ran to the site as the towers eventually collapsed in a massive ruble.
People were right to run away from the danger, but who would run to it and why?
First responders, that’s who. Thank God for first responders who train and prepare for times such as Sept. 11. Instead of running away from danger and distress, first responders run to it in order to save as many lives as possible.
The Great Commission of Jesus is about His followers running to the needs of the world. As disciples of Jesus, we lay down our lives (both figuratively and sometimes literally) for the hordes of people running to escape the chaos of life and sin.
A couple of years ago a pastor in a large Midwest city told of a shooting in his neighborhood. Instead of avoiding the location where the incident occurred, his church went and set up on the corner of the street to engage with those in the neighborhood. They were there to proclaim that hope is found in Jesus alone. This church functioned like first responders. Instead of avoiding the area of conflict, the church ran to it.
This same church, on a weekly basis, has “night church” in a section of town that is known as a hot spot for trouble late at night. Members gather near the street and play Christian music, share testimonies of God’s transforming power and talk with neighbors about the good news of Jesus. The church is running to the needs in its community. The members are, in fact, first responders — bringing hope in the name of Jesus.
Churches across our nation and state can learn much from this Midwest large city new church. Regardless of the location or size of your church, God has placed your church where it is for you to run to the needs in your community with the gospel of Jesus. Here are some takeaways that will help us live with first responder-like gospel urgency:
• Be a church that runs to the needs in your community with gospel hope. Be known in the community as a place that cares for and seeks to show and share the love of Jesus.
• To run to the needs, we need to know our communities. Spend time in the schools, parks, stores, restaurants and neighborhoods getting to know the people. Do so with gospel intentionality.
• To know our communities, we must immerse our lives in the community. If possible, live, work, shop and play in the community where your church gathers.
• Immersing our lives in our communities requires a continual presence in the community. Jesus’ own incarnation teaches us the importance of dwelling among us (John 1:14). He had to come to us in order to save us. The greatest way for churches to impact their communities is to be among the people.
The chaos of sin is sweeping across the communities of our state and nation like a tsunami. It would be easy for the church to simply quarantine itself from the debris and mess — to shelter in place, if you will. However, this is not the Jesus way. He calls us to run to the need, not away from the need.
How will your church respond to the chaos of lives and the destruction of sin in your community? Will you be a first responder with gospel urgency?
Doug Williams is a missions strategist with the Missions Mobilization Team of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.