“To love God, love people and make disciples” (Free Methodist Church – USA mission).
Sometime around 5 a.m. on a Sunday, a pastor near East St. Louis, Illinois, rises. He gets out of bed, gets dressed, starts his morning off in prayer, grabs a small breakfast and heads to the church. The pastor sets up the rooms for Sunday school, cleans up anything leftover from the youth group the night before and finishes up anything on his sermon. On his small budget, he will run to Casey’s General Store to grab doughnuts, coffee and orange juice for those who attend Sunday school. By this time, it is close to 7:30 a.m. The pastor leaves for the church bus. Once there, he will spend the next 30 minutes driving into neighborhoods of East St. Louis and Cahokia to pick up children and teenagers.
Once he arrives, he will go around the neighborhoods and pick up the regulars and have them bring their friends if they are awake. After picking up as many kids as can fit in the van, the pastor will drive them back to church in time for Sunday school. There they partake in the doughnuts that were generously given by the pastor and are able to eat the only food they may have access to that day. The pastor does this several times a week. His church runs approximately 40 people with the average age close to 60. He sees the importance of loving those who are often considered the least of these. The church of mostly older white adults opens its doors several times a week to a racially and economically diverse group of children and teenagers. Despite few shared interests between the two groups, the kids come every Sunday. Why? They are loved.
Some may critique this ministry and claim it is a handout, and the kids only come for the food. Having been to this church, I can personally tell you that there is a two-doughnut limit — I learned that the hard way. This is not enough to get neighborhood teenagers and children out of bed at close to 8 a.m. on a weekend and to head to church where their parents, if they are present or awake themselves, seem to have little to no interest in going. What drives these children are what drives many of our church visitors — the inherent desire to be loved. The pastor loves God and feels called to love his people. He also feels called to love those whom society has labeled the least of these. Because the pastor loves God, he loves people. Consequently, he is making disciples.
It is the love of God in which all things in one’s life ought to be centered. Jesus calls it the greatest commandment:
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40)
A powerful piece of this passage is this: “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” These two commandments are central; everything else is a byproduct.
Like the aforementioned pastor, many people serve and love those around them at great cost to themselves. It does not always involve early mornings, much driving, financial sacrifice or even delicious doughnuts. Those are byproducts, things that are done because the mission is written on the individual’s heart; nevertheless, love does require some sacrifice. Couples sacrifice some of their preferences, friends sacrifice their time, and God sacrificed His Son as the ultimate act of love.
Christians are mission people. They love God, love others and make disciples by virtue of the first two. Many people are willing to make sacrifices and risk losing something in order to see the kingdom of God gain, yet some are not so willing. The question is: Are you?
Jordan Britt is a 2015 graduate of Olivet Nazarene University where he majored in philosophy and religion. He resides in Indianapolis.
- Does the pastor in the opening story remind you of anyone you know?
- Why are some people more willing than others to sacrifice their time, money and energy to love God, love people and make disciples?