By Michael C. Mack
My life started changing while I was preparing for Christmas in 1987. While I was decorating my apartment, trimming my tree, and wrapping presents to celebrate Jesus’ coming into the world, I realized· he wasn’t really in my world. About that time, I took a class on stress and time management. We were to prioritize our “guiding values,’’ those things in our lives—like job security, financial success, good friends, and faith—that are most important to us. I learned that my leading values were faith and creativity, both of which had little to do with my job or lifestyle.
Mom and Dad had brought me up with a strong religious foundation. I grew up going to parochial schools, and I never missed church on Sundays. I knew how to pray, especially when I was in trouble or needing something, but I didn’t know the Bible.
Now I found myself drifting. I had let other things, like my job and the possessions my salary let me buy, come before God.
This realization led me to begin reading my Bible, starting with the Gospels, and conversing more with God in prayer. Finally, I decided I wanted to follow Jesus, though I probably didn’t really understand yet exactly what that meant.
The Search for a Church
There were so many unanswered questions: Which church would fill my spiritual needs? Which denomination would I feel most comfortable with? Where could I grow in this new life and where could I best serve God? Where would I begin?
I started visiting churches in my neighborhood by myself. I also went to church with friends from different denominations. I looked in the Yellow Pages of the phonebook and in newspaper church directories. Sometimes, while driving home from work, I would see a church building that looked interesting and decide to try it the following Sunday. But none of the churches I visited felt right to me. I continued searching on my own, becoming more and more frustrated. This went on for three months.
Meanwhile, I had finished reading the Gospels and kept reading into the book of Acts. The vibrancy and passion of the early church excited me. I wanted to find a church like that!
Suddenly I realized something. I was trying to do this on my own. I desperately wanted to find a place to worship God. But, as silly as it seems now, I hadn’t asked God for his help. I finally realized that if I prayed earnestly to the Lord, he would surely guide me to.the place he wanted me to be.
That night I asked God to direct me to a church home where I could serve him, praise him , and feel like part of a family. I asked specifically for what I was seeing in the New Testament church as portrayed in Acts. I wanted to be in a Bible-teaching, mission-focused community where I could be active in my faith.
The next day was long, busy, and stressful. I came home exhausted and lay down on the comfortable sofa in my apartment.
It was 8:30 when the phone rang. I was slightly bothered by whomever had just awakened me from a pleasant and much-needed nap.
“May I speak to John please?” a woman asked.
“Uh . . . I’m sorry, you have the wrong number,” I replied.
But the woman on the other end wouldn’t let me hang up. “While I’ve got you on the line,” she asked politely, “may I tell you about our church?”
My eyes popped open and my mind awoke.
“Well, sure. In fact, I’ve been kind of looking for a. church,” I answered with much more enthusiasm. My response perked her up too. We talked for 20 minutes. She told me all about the church and invited me to worship at its Easter Sunday service.
I later learned that the call was part of a telephoning program at Centerville Christian Church (now called SouthBrook Christian Church). The church was celebrating its second anniversary and was reaching out to the south Dayton, Ohio, area for Christ. I also discovered my name and number weren’t on their list. The caller misdialed the number.
I went to the church the week after the call. As I walked through the front doors of that church building the following Sunday morning, an older couple named Harvey and Shirley greeted me warmly and asked me about myself. They invited me to their house for iced tea on their back porch. And before the service concluded, they introduced me to some people my age, who in turn invited me to their small group. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so accepted.
My First Small Group Meeting
When I got to the house for that first small group meeting, I drove around the block three times before finally parking my car and summoning the boldness to walk into that stranger’s home. I don’t remember what kind of snack was served, what we studied, or the prayer requests shared that night. But I do remember feeling very, very good about this group of people, and I knew I wanted them in my life.
Over the next couple months, I enjoyed doing everyday things with these people. These weren’t just once-a-week-at-the-meeting acquaintances, but real friends who invited me into their lives. This is exactly what I was hoping to find as a new Christian.
That group was life changing! They accepted me where I was as a new Christian. They helped me learn from the Bible how to start living my life for God instead of myself. I had lots of questions during our meetings, but they were patient with me. Several of the guys met with me individually to encourage me and open up God’s Word with me. They taught me about baptism. (Tom Jones, the minister at CCC, immersed me into Christ a couple weeks later.)
The people in this small group prayed with me and for me. They invited me to their homes and out to eat and other events between meetings. They became some of my best friends in the world. When someone moved, we all pitched in and helped. When someone was sick or hurt, we were all there to do anything we could for them.
God’s Will and God’s Way
At one group meeting, I shared that I was confused about God’s will for my new life. Now that I was “a new creature in Christ,” what was I supposed to do? I wondered out loud if I was in the right career. The group encouraged me and prayed with me to know God’s will.
Within a month of joining that small group, the company I worked for went through a takeover and my whole department was eliminated. I went to the group that night and told them what had happened.
“What do I do now?” I asked. Again, they supported me and challenged me to seek God’s direction. I sensed that God wanted me to use my passion for writing, and they urged me to pursue it.
When I was offered a seemingly great leadership position in a Chicago firm, they continued to help me seek God’s will. When I turned down the offer, they were there with me, supporting me through a tough decision.
Then when I started packing up my apartment to move to attend Cincinnati Bible Seminary, they came and helped me load the truck.
It was hard saying goodbye to these friends God had brought into my life, but I knew he put them there for a season and for a reason. I ventured out of my comfort zone with a new relationship with God and a community of friends I knew would continue praying for me.
Eventually I was offered a position at Standard Publishing as an assistant in the Christian Ministries department. God used me and grew me there in several other editorial roles.
It all ·started with one phone call, because a small church family cared enough about its community to have the courage to reach out to it. The call that woke me up was not a wrong number. It was God waking me when I was spiritually asleep. It was God calling me to serve him!
Michael C. Mack serves as editor of Christian Standard. Much of this article is adapted from “The Wrong Number,” which appeared in The Lookout, June 4, 1989.