People versus Projects

People versus Projects

People“When He [Jesus] saw the crowds, He was moved with compassion…” Matthew 9:36

While crossing the busy street to the shopping center across from my neighborhood I ran into two men holding signs misquoting Scripture of God’s wrath and literally yelling at people driving in traffic past them. That was bad enough. But on top of that, they were handing out very out-of-date “tracts” that were nothing more than goofy black-and-white comics depicting Satan tricking people into Hell. All in the name of “soul-winning”. I can’t make this stuff up.

In addition to their yelling and sign waving, and tract handing – I watched one of them, the younger of the two, approach a woman unsolicited and tell her that she was a sinner before God, and that if she didn’t repent of her sin and tell God she was sorry and believe in Jesus she would go to Hell. He then attempted to lay out three “simple” steps to salvation and get her to believe in Christ in less time than it took for the crosswalk lights to change. All without this woman wanting to participate.

As he continued his diatribe, the look in the woman’s eye compelled me to do something. So I leaned over, gently got the lady’s attention, and told her, “Ma’am, I just want you to know that I’m a pastor of a church nearby, and we’re not all like this guy. There’s at least one church here that cares about you. You matter to God and you matter to us.” In less than 1 minute of talking with her I learned her name (let’s call her “Sarah”)*, a piece of her story, and that she would love to connect with a sincere, caring church.

Before that minute was up she was asking me where my church met, what time, and could she come. I was happy to oblige her. I meant what I said about her mattering to us.

As the lights changed, she smiled and thanked me before crossing the street. Then the young man took an interest in me…

Long story short, he was rude, abrasive, and almost entirely uninterested in me as a person. He shared with me that “they” (his church) had led 710 people to believe in Jesus over the last three years doing what they were doing here on this busy street corner. Not one of which he could name, when asked, citing the fact that he talks to “so many people” that it was impossible for him to keep track of all their names. So I just asked him if he knew the name of the one woman he was just talking to… he didn’t know her name either. He didn’t know that she was hurting. Or that she actually grew up in church. Or that her name was Sarah*. Or that just caring a little bit about her might have given him the chance to speak life over her instead of condemnation.

He didn’t know because he didn’t care. She was just a project to him, not a person with a story, and a heart, and real needs.

I found out that this man was actually the pastor of the church he represented. A church that, according to him, consists of twenty people. Twenty. That have supposedly led 710 people to pray a prayer at a crosswalk. None of which he can name. Small churches are fine. A small church is one thing. Being rude, weird, and hostile to strangers is quite another.

The only people that Jesus got hostile toward, were the religious hypocrites of His day who were more concerned with advancing their agenda than loving people. I know these people mean well, but they’re missing the forest because of all the trees in their way. Or, as my post title suggests, they’re missing the people they could be ministering to because they’re too busy with their project.

Now, I’m not Jesus, and I’m not about to get on the hate-train against this man or his church. I’m not even going to name them. That’s not my style. But I want to be clear about this:

Jesus is not like that. His church is not suppose to be like that. And as best as we know how, LifeCity Church is never going to be like that. We choose to speak life – to let God’s Word and Spirit flow through our speech and actions in such a way that people get a glimpse of God’s heart because it’s beating inside of us.

Whoever you are, and whatever you’re going through we care about you and your story. We care about the pain you’ve experienced and dreams that you hold onto. We care about your family. We care about your struggles. We care about you. We want to learn your name and hear your story.

And if we get the chance and you realize that you can trust us, we hope to share why we care so much about you – because you matter to God and you matter to us.

We hope you’ll come see that for yourself. If someone has ever treated you like this man treated Sarah*, I’m so sorry. And no, not all churches are like that.

Yes, we believe you need Jesus – that we all need Jesus. But we would rather demonstrate that in person than yell it from a street corner.

 Blessings,
Pastor John

*To be clear, her name is not Sarah. But yes, I learned her name. 🙂

Dear Edgewood…

Dear Edgewood…

Dear EBCToday I’m back in my office at Edgewood from being in San Jose for the past week. I’m here preparing for the message I’ll preach this weekend – my final message as a pastor of this amazing church. Ironically, it was nearly 5 years ago to the day that I preached for the first time at Edgewood. Befitting, that I should be concluding my ministry here at the same time.

There are so many things I want to say to each of you that I find it difficult deciding where to begin. For five years you have loved me, encouraged me, honored me, and taught me at least as much as I ever taught you. I’ve seen so many of you come to Christ during my time here. I estimate that I have had the privilege of baptizing somewhere over a hundred of you into our church family, and more importantly, into obedience as a follower of Jesus. I’ve preached hundreds of times to you. And I’ve seen faithfulness in you that any pastor would love to see in his church family. You’ve listened, learned, grown, and taught me a great deal about my journey in the process.

In less than a month, my family and I will say goodbye and move to San Jose, CA. Leaving you is painful for me, to say the least. May you continue in the things that God has worked in your life, and years from now, I pray that we will continue to celebrate what God is doing in the Quad Cities, the South Bay, and around the world. Though a 2,000 mile gap will soon exist between us, my heart still beats for this place and this family of friends and believers who have been so good to us for the past five years.

So about this weekend…

I’m preaching for the final time before we leave. It’s been over a month since I last preached here at home to you. So most of you already know that I have no intentions of holding back or pulling punches. But I am far less interested in impressing you as I am in blessing and challenging you to reach your full potential in Christ. Among many things that I am praying for God to do this weekend, I am asking Him to draw people to Himself – to allow me the privilege this last time, to be part of seeing Him use this church to impact people’s stories for eternity. And that’s where you and I come in.

Please don’t miss this weekend! I want to preach God’s Word over you one last time. But also, don’t come alone! Bring someone with you who needs a touch from God. I’m very confident He plans on attending, and wants to do something in your friends’/family’s lives.

I’m not making this weekend about me. I’ve got far more important things to talk about than myself. So in advance, I want to tell you that you are a good church. You’ve been good to me and I wouldn’t have traded my time with you for any earthly delight. I’m a better pastor, leader, and follower of Jesus for having worked with you.

To the many of you who have been directly part of working with us in our Singles Ministry, Saturday night service, LifeGroups, and so on… look what God did! You were too good to try easy stuff – you did things that were worthwhile. And look how God blessed your faith! Look at what we got to see and do together!!! It still doesn’t seem real to me that we made it where we are now. But God has been gracious to us. And we got to play a part in His work of drawing people to Himself and making disciples. You are precious to me. And working with you has been the honor of my life. Some of you hold special, irreplaceable spots in our hearts. You know who you are. We couldn’t have made it without you. Not by a long shot! Thank you, friends.

If you don’t normally attend Edgewood, and especially if you don’t normally attend any church, join us this week. I believe God is going to do something greater in our lives than any of us could hope or ask for. I can’t wait to see you there!

Blessings,
Pastor John

PS – services are Sat. 5pm, and Sun. 8 & 10:45am