Surprised at Baja Fresh

A week ago Wednesday, a man from our church took me to lunch, and we met with the man’s previous pastor.

This same man had taken Elaine and me to visit this pastor’s mega church last September, and I had written it off as a typical “get everybody in the building” seeker-type service. I was less than thrilled about meeting this guy, and had steeled myself for a rotten hour or so by ordering a great Burrito Mexicana, Enchilado style. It turned out far, far better than I could have imagined.

This pastor asked me all kinds of questions about myself, our church, my passion, what I cared about, etc. Really good, helpful, questions. Then he started drawing on the napkin, picturing the church three different ways. In each, a circle represented “the world” and a triangle represented “the church”.

In panel number 1 of the church archetype napkin, the triangle simply tried to stay separate from the circle. Church as pure, separatist movement. In panel number 2, the triangle tried to suck everybody from the circle into the triangle. Church as the drawing card, the alternate and parallel universe. In panel number 3, the triangle sent out all its people into the circle, to be Christ’s hands and feet. Church as missional.

“I gotta confess,” I said. “I don’t know you well, and I was only at your church once, but I totally had you pegged as a panel number 2 guy and church. Can you tell me how you see yourself doing number 3?” He smiled and launched into some great stories.

He talked about the place where the community’s great needs and the church’s greatest strengths come together as a profound mission. They did some research; their county has been the number 1 or 2 county IN THE NATION for high unemployment, and because of a weird legal loophole, they also have a huge percentage of people without health insurance. Their church has all kinds of people in the medical profession. You connect the dots…they bought a house next to the church and started a medical clinic. It now sees 1000 patients and has 150 people from the church providing the free medical services to those without insurance. Great ministry, but it’s the way he talked about success that caught me.

“I will count it a success if two things happen. I want to see 2000 patients, but only if 300 people from the church are volunteering. Numbers is one measure of success. But the more important thing is this: will this medical ministry change the way people act and serve in their REGULAR medical careers? Will it change the way they do what they do in the world?” Then he told a story about how it did just that for one doctor.

They also have a lot of educators and kids in their church. So, they pick an elementary school in a poor area of the community; pre-screen a list of volunteers from the church with background checks, come up with a list of times those volunteers are available, and telling the school all these people are available at the school’s discretion. They give money to the principal, and say, “We don’t need to have a record of how you used this, but we trust you. You know the kids who need coats this winter, school supplies, lunches. Use it how you see fit.”

I just love that. It really is panel 3, the church investing in the community with no strings. Panel 2 would say, “Let’s have the church host an afterschool care program, and get these kids in our building. We’ll do tutoring and stuff there.” But this mega church really is intentionally going out.

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