The church has left the building, and people are starting to notice.
This is not a statement that church buildings in America have been abandoned, and that, like the empty cathedrals of Europe, are fading into the fog of history. Today in America, it just might be a statement indicating that our culture is awakening to the truth that the church is not a building or a set of calendar events. The church is God’s people in motion, and on mission to participate with Jesus in the redemption of a broken world.
In the immediate wake of the terrible tornado that devastated Moore, Oklahoma, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers did what they always do when disaster strikes. They mobilized into action to bring hope and help in the name of Jesus to hurting people. Other Christian response groups, such as Samaritan’s Purse launched into action as well, but it was this comment made on national TV a day after the disaster that also mattered so much:
NBC reporter Harry Smith said, “We have seen this before. You can wait and wait for the government to help you but the Baptist Men are gonna get it done tomorrow.”
And just like that, a sign of revival rumbled through the American evangelical church.
Here are a couple of reasons why this is so important:
For too long the headlines and national conversation about the church, religion, Southern Baptists, etc; has been negative. We have all bemoaned the fact that while so much good is done by the church, no one ever mentions anything but the negative. Southern Baptist Convention meetings coincide with massive service efforts in the host cities. These are efforts to show the love of Christ and reach out to the hurting and do good in his name. But inevitably the headlines will follow conventions about a stand we took against something, and will be misinterpreted. We are known more for what we are against than what we are for. We will know that revival has sparked in the American evangelical church when that trend changes. Jesus said that people will know that we are his followers by the way that we love. Disaster Relief may be the front line in which that reputation can begin to be restored. The natural response to this revelation is that we need to be champions of local, state, national, and international disaster relief efforts in our churches.
The second reason why this is so significant has to do with the passive absence of men in our culture. It is important to note that disaster relief efforts do not consist of men alone. Thousands of women serve in crucial positions. But in this instance, the NBC reporter mentioned the men. Let us rejoice that Christian men got a positive mention from a national media outlet. If our churches have begun, in recent decades to fade from cultural significance, the blame lies in large part on our men. We have failed to be leaders and innovators in how the church can effectively remain a beacon of light, piercing the darkness of a hurting world. Perhaps today, the tide is beginning to turn. Perhaps through disaster relief, Christian men can begin to regain the place to which God called and created them. If Christian men can begin to be seen, and indeed see themselves, as rescuers, redeemers, and re-builders in communities after disastrous storms, earthquakes, and fires; perhaps we can then begin to relieve the disaster that has become the state of the American family. Stand up men, get certified to do disaster relief away from home, but use that same gospel centered motivation to rebuild AT home as well.
It was one small comment about Baptist men, spoken in the wake of devastation. But it may be the first whisper of a revival that will sweep across this nation and begin to undo the spiritual devastation which characterizes our culture. We are never more like Jesus than when we love and care for those who are broken and cannot care for themselves. We are never more like Jesus than when we rescue those who need to be rescued, in his name.