"Go Out Into the Hedges and Highways"



One Tuesday morning I woke up a 36 year old African American woman and 4 hours later became a 75 year old white male. How? I participated in training on poverty. I quickly settled into my new identity because I had a new life to live and I had to survive in my new reality. I was asked to leave my true identity at the door and mentally become another person. The requirement to take on a new identity was part of the rules of engagement for this poverty simulation. We had to put ourselves in the place of real people. We had to live their reality. We had to endure the struggles they encountered daily just to meet our basic needs. We spent our "days" and "weeks" going from one place to another trying to care for our family.
Our community was comprised of businesses, community agencies, and a place of worship. When the whistle blew in the room it began and ended our day. It was organized chaos. It was a room full of people frantically moving about to pay their bills, going to work and school, and running errands. As the room was full of hustle and bustle, I looked around and saw a place of worship. I saw it each "day" and "week". I desired to go because I had a need, but I didn't have the time or energy to attend one of the services. Church was an afterthought. My "family" desperately needed the message of hope, but we could only see what was in front of us—our problems.
In Luke 14, Jesus tells a parable of a great banquet likening it to the kingdom of God. In the parable the master directs the servant to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind to the feast. In fact, he becomes angry at some point and commands the servant to go out to the highways and hedges and compel them to come in. Jesus, our master, is still requesting that we go out into the city to compel the poor and sick to come in.
Most church ministries center on Wednesday night bible study or Sunday morning service. We put a sign out front or on our websites inviting people to come and worship with us. If we are honest, it's not often we go out into the world to compel people to join the body of Christ. We might invite them to church for Easter or a special service, but we are not aggressively sharing the message of hope with the most vulnerable of society.
This 2 hour simulation helped me to realize that people who are living on the margins, sometimes feel so overwhelmed they are just trying to survive day to day. They are exhausted with the cares and concerns of this life. When some reach this point, they may run to the church for answers, but there are many more who walk pass our church buildings every day. They may not ever walk through your doors, unless you compel them to come.
Here are some ways your church can engage the poor and sick and compel them in:
1.      Start a ministry to address the needs of this population.
I always hear the saying, "People don't care how much you know, until they can see
how much you care." You can have the best theologically sound bible studies and sermons, but people need to see that you care for them. James 2 states, " If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,  and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead."
            Your church can start by hosting community meals, start a food pantry, have food drives for the local food banks or homeless shelters, or help feed members of your congregation. You can also have clothing drives to clothe families in your community who don't have much, especially during the winter months. Many nursing homes are always looking for volunteers. A few years ago, I use to visit my friend Cheryl in a nursing home. I would often stay longer than I intended because so many of the residents wanted to talk. They were lonely. They didn't have family, and if they did, they didn't come and visit them. Can you go visit them? Can your church do a service once a month?
2.      Evangelism
Evangelism is uncomfortable many times, but a command from God. He clearly tells us
to go out into the world and tell people about him. I know there is usually one church in the community who is known for outreach and missions. Shouldn't that be all of us? The church is in need of people who intentionally and consistently go out to preach Jesus. This sounds so simple, but when was the last time your church went out into the "highways and hedges" and compelled others to come to Christ? When was the last time you went out to just pray with people? To hug them? To tell them that Jesus loves them?
3.      Host meetings and community events.
A natural way to connect with people is to host neighborhood meetings and
community events. Many churches host AA/NA meetings, or instead of AA/NA, it has its own recovery services. In my experience, this draws so many people who are broken and are looking for an answer. We have that answer. Jesus. Your church can also host block parties, back to school celebrations, children events, and all types of fun activities that can be a blessing to your community. When you have these events, it invites people to see you in a natural setting. It tears down barriers and gives you a platform to speak into their lives.

            After two hours, I reverted back to my true identity, but I took with me the lessons I learned. First, there are a lot of Americans who are hurting and living in poverty. Next, they are stressed out, broken, and in search for assistance. And, finally, the Church has an opportunity to walk as Jesus walked. We can answer his call to go out into the entire world and compel them to come in.

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