Rev. Landon Ledlow from Redeemer Lutheran Church in Austin sent me a copy of a social media post a few weeks ago. The post was from a man who lives in the church’s neighborhood. This is what he said:
“I have not been to church in over 10 years, so whenever I walk by Redeemer, I keep a cool distance. You do your thing, I’ll do my thing, and we’ll get along just fine. However, seeing what they did over Christmas, I’m starting to wonder more what their ministry is all about. This past Sunday, I ran into some of their students planting flowers in the flower bed at the park. I’ll probably not get baptized anytime soon, but I’m feeling grateful and affectionate toward this church.”
What did Redeemer do over Christmas? They pooled their resources, partnered with community agencies, first responders, and neighbors to bless the public school families whose kids attend the school next door. Redeemer called it “A Night of Hope.” While volunteers played with kids, involved them in games, and showed them Jesus’ love, a massive tent was set up so parents could pick out Christmas gifts for their kids, take the gifts home, wrap them, and put presents under the tree that most likely would have never been there.
The church led the way to bless people, to be a light in the community, and to share the love of Jesus. Or, as Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35
The man who noticed and posted on the neighborhood’s social media site articulated some key clues that help the church reach an increasingly de-churched and post-Christian culture.
- People are wary of the institutionalized church. God’s people need to go out of their way to meet people where they’re at, to listen, to prove trust, and to be patient along the journey.
- Doing what the Word says (James 1:22) and loving people not just with words, but with deeds and in truth (1 John 3:18) establishes rapport with people who doubt the church’s heart, purpose and authenticity.
- Proclaiming the way God called us out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9) leads people to think about God’s gifts. The man said he may not get baptized soon, but isn’t it amazing that he thought about baptism?!
- Before people start attending a worship service, they may need to first feel “grateful and affectionate” toward the church. That may have been the impact of Jesus eating with tax collectors and “sinners” (Matthew 9:10).
We live in a complex time. The issues faced by the church bring questions that are difficult to answer. Too often, God’s people feel paralyzed by the obstacles looming before us. But while Satan would want us to believe that these obstacles are too great to overcome, Jesus gives us the simple answer: “Love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12 In other words, the answer has been in front of us the whole time. It’s in the shape of a cross.
By Rev. Michael Newman
President, Texas District of the LCMS