Beyond the Steeples

By Mark A. Taylor

When we think about “churches without steeples,” we quickly remember ways we’ve seen the church at work wherever two or three of its members gathered together.

Two Christian men meet at a restaurant, one hearing the other’s confession of sin and then committing to help him walk a path of recovery.

A couple interrupts their Saturday routine to gather with friends and family in a hospital’s intensive care unit where a fellow church member is suffering.

Two women walk together daily, the older sharing encouragement with the younger, whose children are just half a generation younger than hers.

Carloads of Christians repaint and remodel the house of a newly divorced fellow believer who can’t get it ready to sell by herself.

Each of these is an example of the church being the church outside of the church walls. They’re illustrations from my experience that many readers could echo from their own. Christians have always done good deeds, especially for the needy in their number.

Last week’s issue showed how and why externally focused churches are refining service into a core strategy. Not satisfied with spontaneous good deeds among just some Christians, they are organizing and recruiting Christians to demonstrate Christ’s goodness. Not willing to limit their service to other believers, these Christians are showing the concern of Christ in some places where it has never been seen before.

Something similar is happening in the stories we tell this week. These accounts are more obviously evangelistic, however. Here we find Christians engaging the marketplace with services others are willing to pay for; but always their motive is sharing the gospel, not just doing a job. Others are offering hope among those who had long ago felt trapped by hopelessness.

I find all of this challenging and humbling. Have I been so missional in my own neighborhood? Not long ago I heard about a woman whose funeral was preached by a fellow who didn’t become a Christian till he was a young adult. He had been her neighbor as a kid growing up, and she had prayed for years that he would come to know Christ. She was not a professional minister or prominent leader. But he is both, due to her faithful witness.

The example of Christians featured last week and this reminds all of us that steeples don’t define the ministry of the local church. The church goes wherever we go. And always it encounters people who need what only it can offer.

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