As the worship singing ended and a line of chairs were queued on the stage at a small Baptist church in this suburb of Los Angeles, those in attendance quickly realized that a sermon wasn’t going to be delivered on this breezy and bright Southern California Sunday morning.
What members and guests got instead was a panel discussion consisting of church members who, in various ways and apart from any ministry of the church, have found ways to connect and minister to their communities. One by one, each panelist gave a testimony of how they are planting gospel seeds as they go about their daily routines.
One couple, the Nishimotos, said they decided to go door-to-door during the pandemic and meet the practical needs of their neighbors, distributing hand sanitizer, face masks, and toilet paper at a time when stores couldn’t keep them in stock. Another couple, the Spykermans, used their daily walks to engage other walkers who, over time, trusted them enough to share struggles in their lives for which they had no answer.
The pastor, Mike, said he has used walking his dog as an opportunity to talk to people he sees along his regular route. One of the women he greets regularly on those walks, a Muslim, recently told him she has lost two husbands—one to cancer and another to a car wreck. “She was just desperate, and you could tell she wanted to tell someone her story,” he said. “And when she tells me her story, it opens the door for me to tell her my story. And my story is God’s story.”
These couples weren’t just describing “buddy evangelism,” a practice of befriending someone with the intent of eventually sharing a gospel message that never seems to conveniently fit in the friendship. They were describing efforts to make personal, relational connections with people they don’t know for the purpose of inviting them into a spiritual space—either by praying for people or telling them their own stories of how Jesus has transformed their lives.
The modern church does a lot of things well. We preach well. We teach well. We are great at putting on world-class events. But one thing we struggle to do well is connect with our brothers and sisters in Christ. I’m not talking about small talk and handshakes on Sunday morning. I’m talking about down-and-dirty, sometimes-inconvenient, real-life connections that you can count on when the going gets tough. I’m talking about the manifestation of Galatians 6:2, where the overwhelming burden that you are carrying is lightened by someone who loves and cares about you enough to give their most precious—and rare—commodity: their time.
As needs have been met and the gospel has been proclaimed, several of the panelists testified that they have been blessed in ways they would have never imagined by simply putting in the effort to get to know the people God has put in their lives.
“I can’t tell you how much joy there is in loving people without expectation,” one woman on the panel said.
No, the congregation didn’t hear a sermon on this particular Sunday, but that’ll preach.