Several months ago at University Christian Church in Manhattan, Kansas, we came up with an idea to get the church involved in the community.
The bulk of the inspiration came from a staff member who attended the February 2011 Preaching and Teaching Conference at Ozark Christian College. There he heard about Vince Antonucci’s book Guerilla Lovers and the “guerilla” assignments Antonucci developed to encourage Christians to get outside their comfort zones and show God’s love through acts of kindness.
We decided to challenge our congregation with the idea. The result was a military-themed sermon series called “Deployed” that not only talked about going out and showing God’s love in challenging new ways, but also gave each person a “deployment assignment” to perform during the week. During each sermon of this five-week series, each person in our worship services received an envelope with an assignment for the person to complete during the week. As the series progressed, we asked folks to share interesting stories from their “deployment” for our blog.
Sermons and Assignments
The first sermon focused on noticing people and praying for them. The idea was for our troops to be watchful and ready to interact with and serve the people God places in our lives on a daily basis. Ten corresponding assignments focused on getting people to “Notice and Pray” for others in their lives who needed service or a special blessing. For example, this was one of the assignments: “Sometime this week, visit a local sit-down restaurant. In addition to your tip for the waiter/waitress, put an extra tip in an envelope and designate it for the dishwasher. Leave a note in the envelope saying you are grateful for their work and that ‘Jesus cares for you and so do I.’”
The second sermon and set of six assignments asked everyone to “Stop and Care” for others. It encouraged people to go beyond simply noticing, and to engage in a relational manner. One assignment suggested, “Write a thank-you letter to someone who has been a positive influence in your life. Thank them for that influence and tell them you are grateful God has placed that person in your life.”
During the third week, the sermon discussed the need to “Take the Talent.” Everyone has unique gifts; it’s up to us to decide how to use these talents for God’s service. Each of the six assignments asked people to engage their gifts in service, for example: “Find a park, school, or a neighbor’s yard that needs some TLC. Mow the lawn, pull some weeds, pick up litter, or find some other way to help out.”
Week four asked people to “Take the Money” and put it to good use. While these are difficult economic times, even a small financial blessing can have a significant impact. The assignment deviated slightly from the sermon this week; it again focused on talent, as we wanted to build up a more significant financial assignment for the final week. The lone assignment for week four: “Spend some time in prayer with God and focus specifically on two things. First, pray that God will reveal a talent or ability you have that you can use to serve someone. Second, pray that God will reveal whom you could serve using that talent or ability. Once you’ve discerned those two things in prayer, go and serve.”
The final week’s sermon, “Repeat, Don’t Stop,” asked people to turn these deployment assignments into a lifestyle, not a special, one-time-only assignment. Like the previous week, there was only one assignment (this time involving a potentially sacrificial gift): “Spend some time in prayer and focus specifically on two things. First, pray that God will identify someone who needs a financial blessing, whether it’s someone you know or someone you don’t know. Second, pray that God will reveal a way you can give until you feel it. Once you’ve discerned those two things in prayer, go and give. Tell them you have prayed for them and then continue to pray for them.”
Responses and Reactions
Inevitably, there are mixed reactions to a series that asks people to take large, specific steps out of their comfort zones. That was certainly part of our intent. There were a few negative reactions. After the first service, one attendee returned the assignment and simply said, “Not going to happen.”
But there also were far more positive responses. Many people were excited to receive these assignments. Some college students who were leaving town early in the series asked for assignments in advance. A number of e-mails and letters described the ways the series pushed people out of their comfort zones and into larger steps of faith. We shared some responses on our blog. A man shared this story:
When I opened my envelope I almost passed out. The instruction said to send a card to a soldier serving overseas to thank him or her and to say, “I’m praying for you. Jesus cares for you, and so do I.” Then it suggested the name of one person to receive this message. Much to my surprise and shock, the name in my envelope was a friend, Robert, who I met a year ago through Cub Scouts. My stepson and his son were starting Cub Scouts together, and both Robert and I were engaged to be married. We became friends, visiting on Thursday evenings while our sons were participating in their Scout den meetings.
But after Robert’s son moved up a year in school, he was placed in another den, and I lost touch with Robert. Then, on Sunday morning, I get this envelope in church and am asked to write to Robert, a former friend now deployed overseas! This was too cool not to share.
One woman shared this story:
I was deployed to buy a gift card and give it to someone. I started praying and looking for the person to whom God would have me give the card, but by Saturday I still hadn’t found the right person. That evening I stopped at a friend’s house on the way to the grocery. Her husband answered the door and directed me to the basement where my friend was cutting the hair of a woman from Peru.
When I walked into the room, my friend said to the Peruvian woman, “Oh good, my friend is here. She’s a counselor. She can help you.” The woman started to tell me about another woman she worked with who had borrowed a significant amount of money from her. The borrower promised to pay her back but kept putting her off. Even when the woman from Peru lost her purse and needed help, the woman who borrowed the money wouldn’t assist her. The Peruvian woman was becoming confused, angry, and bitter toward the woman to whom she loaned the money.
I knew this woman from Peru was the person for whom the gift card was meant. I told her about the “deployment” assignment, that I had been praying for her all week, and that I believed God wanted her to have the gift card. The woman broke down and opened up about other sorrows in her life stemming from family members who were also exploiting her for their own financial gain.
Though initially reluctant, the woman accepted the gift card. She agreed that God had not forgotten her and that he would take care of her, even when it felt like the world was taking advantage of her. God used these deployment orders in a mighty way to speak directly to this woman about his love and faithfulness to her.
God moved in powerful ways over the course of five weeks, and he is likely still moving through this today in ways we don’t (and won’t) know. Some church members have said they want us to do something like this again, as it pushed them out of their comfort zones and gave them some accountability. It was a challenging series that prodded us to engage our faith in new ways and to deploy in our community.
Kavan Rogness serves as executive coordinator with University Christian Church in Manhattan, Kansas.