Inviting “ordinary” Christians to be the ones who build the Church
by Diane J. McDougall
A lifetime ago in Southern California, I carried on a crazy-wonderful ministry in my after-work hours, befriending multiple Cambodian refugee families. So much of the me I am now was shaped by that time. It all started with a Bible study for teenage girls. Younger siblings emerged out of the woodwork for ventures to rollerskating rinks, and before long I was loading up my ’71 Mustang for rides to church (squeezing in more kids than truly fit, but hey, seatbelts weren’t yet mandatory).
Soon I was learning how to teach English so I could better engage their mothers. From basic lessons we graduated to simple-English discussions of Creation and the Fall … and Jesus. The Christmas story came alive in their courtyard, with all available children dressed as shepherds—dishtowels hastily draped over heads.
Eventually I was arranging a 10-week leave of absence to learn to speak Khmer, so that I could better communicate with my friends’ grandmothers.
Never, though, in those six years of loving my friends—marveling at their weddings, weeping with them in their distresses and learning how to make eggrolls—did I ever think, Hmmm … if these seeds of faith take root, this could be the beginning of a church.
I’d always assumed that pastors start churches. This was just me, loving people. I likely would have been startled if someone had asked: “How can we come alongside you and figure out if God might be up to something bigger, like a church?”
That’s why one of the stories in this issue struck home with a poignant force. As I interviewed two couples for “We’re Not Pastors But We Plant Churches,” I was deeply moved. I thought, Yes, yes, this is right, this is natural. This is what happens next when talking about Jesus leads to people coming to Christ.
But somewhere deeper, there was also an ache: My heart wondered what more lasting God-movement might have started to take root if I myself had dreamt bigger.
I routinely hear stories of other believers who are dreaming bigger. Whose feet—fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:14-15; Isaiah 52:7)—are going on adventures for Him. Who are planting communities of faith where God has placed them. Will these communities become churches?
One believer in an EFCA church, a young single man, was invited by his pastor to consider a nearby mobile-home community as his mission field. (The pastor had noted the community while driving around looking for pockets of unchurched people on Sunday mornings.) The young man agreed and even chose to move into one of the trailers. A few other guys joined him. And then some single women from the church moved into another trailer. Together, they are investing in this community and its people as their people. Their ministry is reorienting all their decisions.
Other believers down through the centuries have regarded their workplace as their mission field. If spiritual conversations cannot happen easily there, prayers certainly can. And as God does His work in hearts, the connections deepen outside the workplace. And something wonderful unfolds.
May this issue, as it explores equipping the saints for ministry, build enthusiasm for what God is doing through lay leaders in your church—passionate believers both equipped and encouraged to expect God to build His Church through them.