Caring People Into The Kingdom – the unbeatable formula for missional church

A little girl hangs on whilst her church family mobilises

One of the most basic and fundamental considerations for spiritual seekers as they encounter people from a community of faith is simple: is this a mob that I would like to hang out with? Do I feel comfortable with these people. Is this social network and sub-culture something I want to belong to? You can have the best evangelistic skills on planet earth but its not always what you say, its how you live. Statistics show that Australians have made their judgment on this. Substantially more Aussies are open to Jesus than they are the church. But are they missing out on a best kept secret? I think they are.

Read any book by a leading ‘missional author’ and you’ll find a withering critique of the ‘established’ church. The remedies suggested range from substantial reorientation to bulldozing. But are established suburban churches being severely underestimated and unfairly maligned? In the headlong rush towards attaining missional credibility could we be throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

Allow me use a particular baby to illustrate my point. On March 19 Indiana Hope Dawkins was born.  She is my second grandchild (insert multiple comments about what a remarkably young grandfather I am..). Little did I know when I cradled her on her first visit to our home that she was a sick little girl.

She developed complications with breathing after being discharged and on March 30, 11 days after her birth she was admitted to the Royal Children’s Hospital in Brisbane, and a few days later the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit of the Mater Children Hospital in South Brisbane. She was born with a congenital heart defect in the left hand side of her heart (the side that pumps out) and she was gravely ill. After battling RSV upon admission, then being diagnosed with Dilated Cardiomyopathy and a large PDA, then a cardiac catheter and a lung biopsy, specialists were forced into open heart surgery to close her large PDA which ended in 15hrs on ECMO (life support).

The Care Army Mobilises

Shortly after Indiana was admitted the church family of Indiana (South Pine Community Church) swung into action. Cooked meals were organised and financial assistance to cope with the parking expenses of the daily trips into the Mater and the astronomical parking fees. Then an incredibly generous family from within the church community rented an expensive apartment next the Mater hospital so that Indiana’s parents Megan and Josh could be close by and maintain the constant vigil. My wife gave up her work so that she could look after Indi’s brother Israel and anonymous gifts of petrol cards began turning up in our post box to help us with the expenses incurred by our new situation.

The practical support of the church grew and soon the mounting bills were being looked after, shopping was being ordered and the accommodation was extended as Indiana continued her battle. Megan and Josh’s house was being looked after, the yard was mowed and the house was checked on, post collected, etc. Through a Facebook page news of Indiana spread virally and soon the prayer support of churches and believers across the world was mobilised.

Looking In From The Outside

Indiana’s progression from open heart surgery on 30 May to the present day

The phenomenal amount of care and support from Indiana’s immediate church family plus the wider body of Christ did not go unnoticed. Support for her included people who did not have any religious affinity at all.  I received a note from one of my mates letting me know that he somehow felt inadequate in not being able to say in comments on Facebook that he was praying for Indiana.  I assured him that the sentiment meant the world to us.  One day before her surgery whilst spending some time by Indiana’s bedside we noticed a somewhat distraught father sitting alongside a newly admitted newborn baby.  The mother and father were immigrants and had no family network in Australia at all, and had been evacuated from a regional Queensland town in a rush to accompany their child who had serious heart complications. I walked across the room and introduced myself and we swapped stories.

I soon came to know that they had absolutely nothing with them, which was particularly challenging as they had another young child with them who was separated from her toys and clothes.  They were alone, afraid, confused and bewildered. They had no idea how long they were going to be in Brisbane for and their situation in those early days was pretty grim. A friendship was struck up and we were able to help them out of our abundance because of the enormous support our family was getting. Their story ended well and they are back home now with their own little heartkid.

The predicament of the two families put alongside one another was stark. One family was isolated and alone, the other was surrounded by a sea of generosity, care and concern. The burdens that Indiana’s parents shouldered were heavy, but they were made significantly lighter thanks to a generous and loving faith community. Now that is attractive, and the contrast was noticed.  Some eyes were opened up about the significance of belonging to a faith community.  This is the kind of community most people would be love to belong to. This is also sadly hidden knowledge.  When people outside of the church encounter this level of care it turns perceptions on their head. This is what small and medium sized churches do very well, and it stands as a massive contradiction to the often jaundiced caricature painted of the church in modern missional literature.

I’m happy for the church to be critiqued, and I’m in there boots and all myself, believe you me.  I love reading the literature and having my assumptions challenged. However, there is no substitute for a loving, generous, caring, sacrificial community of faith. This is one of the reasons churches continue to prosper despite issues with polity that may be problematic, outmoded and outdated. Despite its failings, many churches are at their heart a collective of warm, generous souls who regularly care people into the kingdom. God loves people and they in turn love those around them.

The Ideal Model For A Missional Church

Most of my friends these days do not go to church (not being a full time pastor has meant that my circles of association can be much wider) .  They do however get a birds eye view of the church through sharing life with me and in particular through being a Facebook friend, and keeping up to date with the latest developments in little Indiana’s struggle for survival.  What they have seen will serve to be  stepping stone along the path to faith for those who are spiritually hungry. So if you ask me to come up with an ideal model for a ‘missional’ church I wouldn’t reach for any books ever written on the topic.  I’ll simply tell you the story of little Indiana’s church family (who have never met her) and all the people who helped her by way of supporting her parents and wider family and through their constant prayers (you’ll be surprised at how much people who are not Christians value prayer!). I’ll tell you a story of a fallible and imperfect community of faith who love people into the kingdom. That’s enough for me.  Is it enough for you?

Today as I write little Indiana is going home. She is still sick, and like all heartkids she’ll be back at the Mater regularly as an (outpatient mainly). During her stay at the Mater I’ve been introduced to a world within a world. The staff are an inspirational bunch, their professionalism, talent, knowledge and compassion is first class. We stand in awe of them and are very thankful that we can have access to such world class medical help.

Indiana in her special going home outfit preparing to leave hospital