…but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.
1 Thessalonians 2:7-8 (NIV)
“I don’t want to know him, I just want to help him.”
This line was uttered by a well-meaning Christian man many years ago as he handed his pastor a wad of cash intended to help a homeless man who had made his way to the front row one Sunday morning. The church had been growing a strong reputation for being a place where people were welcomed, loved, and cared for, and people in need in the community had taken notice. The services started filling up with homeless people, strippers (one had gotten saved and she was bringing all her friends), and many others. The dynamic within the church was shifting, but it wasn’t to everyone’s liking.
I heard this first-hand account a few years back from the pastor who (25 years later) was reflecting on this period of time at his church. The church had been growing for the few years he had been serving as their pastor, but as it grew it began to reflect a dynamic he called “happy family church.” Then one day a stripper got saved. She invited all her friends from the club to her baptism, and that day a few of them got saved. Then they invited their friends. Soon, as this pastor looked out on his growing congregation on a Sunday morning, it was as if a seating chart had been published that he didn’t know about. On one side of the church sat “happy family church” and on the other side of the church sat recovering addicts, curious seekers, and people you don’t want your daughter to date.
As I remember the story, one Sunday morning a man clearly in need of assistance stumbled to the front row during the service and sat there throughout. At the conclusion of the gathering as people were dismissing a well-dressed man (from the “happy family church” side) approached the pastor and handed him some money saying, “I’d like to help that guy out over there, here is some cash.”
The pastor responded, “Awesome, that’s great, let me introduce you to him.”
The man balked, stepped back from the pastor and uttered that line: “I don’t want to meet him, I just want to help him.”
I’m not sure what happened to the man in need or the man who wanted to help him, I don’t remember how the story ended. I do know that 25 years later that church has become known all over the world for the radical impact they have made on their community. That was actually why I visited it with a group of pastors 3 years ago to learn from their team. They have become a church that is not only concerned with ‘helping’ people, but with knowing and loving people. They share the gospel with people, and they share their lives as well.
The lesson I want to take away from this story is that gospel witness isn’t simply about sharing the gospel, though sharing the gospel is vital. True gospel witness, true gospel ministry, carries with it the demand to share our lives with others, not simply our message. Gospel witness comes in power (not simply in word) when we share our lives; when we walk across the church or across the street to learn a name, share a meal, and carry a burden.