Friday, January 18

My kind of church

I love this story that appears in Tony Campolo's The Kingdom Of God Is A Party. Below is Gary Snowden's abbreviated retelling of the story...

Campolo found himself wide awake and hungry one morning at 3:30 a.m. while on a speaking trip to Honolulu. He found a greasy spoon diner open and ordered coffee and a donut which Harry grabbed off the shelf (without tongs or wax paper of course) and plopped on his plate. As he was eating, a group of 8 or 9 streetwalkers noisily entered the diner. Their language was crude as well as the subject matter of their conversation and Campolo was planning his exit when he heard one of them who was seated next to him tell her companion that the next day was her birthday. Her friend seated on the other side of her from Campolo responded, “What do you expect me to do, throw you a party or something?” The woman by Campolo replied, “No, I wouldn’t expect you to do that. In fact, I’ve never had a birthday party in my entire life.”

After the women left, Campolo asked Harry if they came in often. He replied that they were regulars every night. Campolo asked if the lady seated next to him also came each night. Harry identified her as Agnes and said she was there each evening. Campolo proposed to Harry that he come back the next night if it was okay and decorate the diner for a birthday celebration for Agnes. Harry agreed and insisted that he would bake a birthday cake for the occasion.

The next night Campolo arrived about 2:30 to decorate the diner with balloons and streamers and a big banner that said “Happy Birthday Agnes.” By the time Agnes and her friends arrived, the diner was packed with other women who shared her profession. News had gotten out via the grapevine about the party. On cue, Campolo led the group in singing Happy Birthday to Agnes and Harry brought out the cake with the candles already lit. Agnes had gotten a bit teary-eyed at the singing of Happy Birthday, but at the sight of the cake she lost it totally and began to weep uncontrollably. Harry kept insisting that she blow out the candles or he’d do so himself, which he finally did. Harry handed Agnes a knife and said, “Go ahead and cut the cake, Agnes. We’re hungry. We want some cake.”

Agnes paused, staring at the cake and finally spoke to Harry. She asked him if they might wait a bit before the cut the cake. He replied, “Sure, it’s your cake. You can even take it home if you’d like.”

Agnes replied, “Can I really? I live just down the street. I’ll be right back, I promise.” Then carrying the cake as if it were the Holy Grail, she walked out of the diner and everyone sat in stunned silence.

At that point Campolo said, “What do you say we pray?” Looking back on the event Campolo said it was a highly unusual setting—a Baptist preacher surrounded by streetwalkers in a diner at 3:30 a.m. in a prayer meeting. He prayed for Agnes’ salvation and the blessings of God upon her life.

When he had concluded his prayer, Harry leaned over the counter a bit confrontationally and said gruffly, “Hey, you never told me you were a preacher! What kind of church do you belong to?”

In a moment of inspiration, Campolo replied, “The kind of church that throws birthday parties for streetwalkers at 3:30 a.m.”

After a brief pause, Harry responded, “No you don’t. There’s no church like that. If there was, I’d join it. I’d join a church like that!”

5 comments:

jpu said...

Thanks for reminding me of that story Guy, its a good one.
God is good
jpu

Alan said...

That certainly is an emotional story but I think the end is very telling. Of course that guy would join a "church like that." That is the problem of seeker-sensitive, when we make the church appealing to the unsaved it stops becoming the church. Campolo is certainly not someone to learn lessons from and I do not know how the story ends but in it I did not see what he was commissioned to do. He says he prayed for Agnes, but did he ever give her the Law and Gospel of God, which is the power of salvation?

In Christ
Alan

GuyMuse said...

jpu,

Thanks for stopping by and keep up the good work over at your blog!

Alan,

When engaging not-yet believers, there are basically two approaches: one, is to confront them directly with the truths and teachings of the Gospel and ask for a response. The other is to follow Jesus' own method of training his disciples for ministry in Luke 10.

A careful examination of this passage shows that he commanded/instructed them to do many things PRIOR to proclaiming "the Kingdom of Heaven has come near..." In fact they were instructed to NOT proclaim the Good News until all the previous 6-7 instructions were carried out (pray, go, don't take, don't greet, find man of peace, stay in that house, eat and drink what is set before you, heal the sick, and finally PROCLAIM THE KINGDOM HAS COME NEAR.)

There is a time and place for both, but over the years we have found that following Jesus method of preparing his own disciples for work in the harvest is the most effective.

Serving, loving, ministering to others in Jesus name, like described in the story, goes a long way to open hearts to then hear the Good News of Jesus Christ preached. In Jesus' own ministry he went about 1) healing, 2) proclaiming the Kingdom in that order. We would do well to imitate his example.

Deborah said...

Guy,

What a gracious and excellent response to the poster, Alan. I would add that shouldn't the Holy Spirit be the one to make us "sensitive to seekers." It is the Holy Spirit's job to "convict the world of sin." Our job is to lovingly proclaim the good news. Remember that Paul said, without love we are just clanging cymbals.

And I too agree that praying, preparing the field and removing the obstacles ARE pre-requisites for sowing the seed. If we want those high yield harvests (60,90) then we need to properly prepare our soil before sowing our precious seed.

Great story and it reminds us that what we do for the "least of these" we do unto Jesus!

"from another field"

GuyMuse said...

Deborah,

Welcome to the "M Blog" and thanks for the comment. From your close, it sounds like you may be another missionary. I agree with you that anything we can do to remove barriers to the Gospel is part of "preparing the soil" for the seed to be planted. One of the most effective is to love, minister to, show concern for those we are trying to reach.