In the face of agonizing tragedy the church stepped
After monster tornadoes tore through Oklahoma, the
people of the church demonstrated the simple and powerful love of
Christ to those they never met. And may never see again. Yet the
church served, without expecting anything in return.
Local churches offered their facilities to those who
suddenly found themselves homeless. Church members collected truck
loads of clothing, food and household goods for the stranded. These
were acts of love, performed without sermonizing, without any
expectation that the victims would later fill the pews or become
Other churches outside of the area jumped into action
to assist those ravaged by the storms. Churches in Columbus, Ohio,
collected batteries, tents, backpacks and baby supplies. Churches
in New York sent vanloads of volunteers to clean debris from
flattened neighborhoods. Churches in Indiana organized benefit
concerts to raise funds for tornado relief.
These far-flung churches had no self-interests or
hopes of gaining a return on their investment. They simply served.
And people noticed. An Oklahoma news reporter saw
church volunteers move onto the scene after the tornadoes left. He
told his listeners, “Wait for government aid and you’ll be here
forever. The Baptist men will get it done tomorrow.”
That’s the church being the church.
Sometimes, though, I wonder what keeps us from
responding like that outside of extraordinary disasters. I was
reminded of this inconsistency in recent weeks as we screened a
preview of an upcoming documentary for church leaders and members.
The film showed some Christians’ efforts to serve their local
communities, to bring joy to the elderly, to bring love and dignity
to homeless moms on skid row.
Every time we showed the clips, several church people
expressed their doubts and dissatisfaction with the servants on the
screen. “Where was the gospel?” “How do we know they heard the plan
of salvation?” “What good does that do the church?” And my personal
favorite: “You call that church? I didn’t hear any praise songs. I
didn’t see any pews.”
For many churches, love and service have become
conditional. Efforts to be “missional,” to reach out, to love your
neighbor are only valid if they produce a return, if they
reciprocate. Or if they’re wrapped in a sermon.
But Jesus made it quite clear. His second great
commandment simply calls us to love those around us. No strings
Sometimes the church has been visibly absent in times
of real need. A public school official in Joplin, Missouri noticed
this absence after a massive tornado swept away much of his city
and schools in 2011. At a meeting of 150 community leaders he
realized the pastors were missing. So he called a special meeting
for the city’s faith leaders. After Superintendent C.J Huff
acknowledged that the educational system has long banned religious
teaching in public schools, a pastor stood up and said, “We can’t
be the voice of God in the schools, but we can be the hands of
That was a breakthrough for Joplin schools. Throngs of
church members rallied to serve as volunteers in the schools. The
schools rebounded from the disaster. The students soaked up the
love. The dropout rate fell dramatically.
“The results have been profound,” Huff said. “Wouldn’t
it be nice if every community in our nation behaved in that
We can be the hands of God.