Action, the book of James tells us, is an evidence of a genuine faith, and an action required of all Christ-followers is disciple-making.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem…”
Tabitha is baptized in the bathtub—standing room only, fifty joyful brothers and sisters overflowing from the bathroom into the master bedroom, rejoicing with her in her decision to follow Christ.
“…and in all Judea and Samaria…”
The homeless and the needy at Target Dayton Ministries become the recipients of God’s generosity, are fed physical meals and are, more importantly,offered the spiritual Bread, Jesus.
“…and to the end of the earth.”
Somewhere in Africa, a community drinks clean water from a well donated through Charity: Water, avoiding diseases that may otherwise have claimed their lives.
As I sit comfortably on their living room couch, Sarah and Brian Pelphrey, longtime members of Mound House Church in Miamisburg, animatedly pour out the story of how this house church, which they now help shepherd, set out to become single-mindedly obedient to Christ’s Acts 1:8 commission to them, His Church.
The story begins with a jog, a vision and a football.
Early on, Mound House Church met in the Pelphreys’ home, which they then shared with Sarah’s brother, Rusty, and his family. One day, Rusty jogged down the street and passed a nearby low-income apartment complex; he jogged back home with a vision for building relationships with these neighbors. These people desperately needed the Gospel, and his house church had what they needed--as well as a Commission from their Savior and a heart for the city of Miamisburg. Rusty brought his vision to the group, who began to pray about how to minister to their neighbors.
This Gospel work was not dramatic at the outset, but it was persistent. Rusty and his friend Philip showed up at the apartments and started a game of football with some kids who were hanging around. This game of football led to more games of football, and Rusty and Philip kept going back, again and again, supported in prayer by the rest of the house church. Relationships began to develop, and soon the entire house church was involved in a targeted effort to befriend their neighbors at the apartment complex.
God began opening the group’s eyes to the needs of those around them, and once they started paying attention, ministry opportunities met them at every corner.
A neighbor needed help with a household budget; a house church member offered his services.
A one-on-one Bible study sprang up, and a woman named Tabitha came to know Christ and was baptized.
Thanksgiving became an opportunity to give away Thanksgiving dinner.
House church members gave back-to-school supplies and Christmas presents.
Then, a youth ministry was born.
One summer, in an attempt to build deeper relationships, the house church began to have their house church meetings at the apartment complex every other week. They invited their neighbors to share their meal and welcomed them to stay for house church. Several 3rd and 4th grade kids were among those who stayed week after week, and these children were lovingly “adopted” by the group. When the weather turned cold, they continued to find their way to the Pelphreys’ home for house church, usually without parents, sometimes with siblings or friends, always with appetites!
Ministering to these kids required self-sacrifice. It wasn’t always easy, especially when the kids tended to show up at 4:30 in the afternoon for house church, which began at 6:00! Sarah described one such evening. “It was pouring rain, and…they came up onto our porch, and I felt like the Lord said, ‘Sarah, are you really going to lay your life down for Me and be in relationship with these people, or are you still looking for your own time allotment?’ I felt like God put it on my heart that I needed to make even that time, precious time with them.” So she put the kids to work, taught them what serving looks like. While she and Brian prepared for the evening, the kids cleaned bathrooms, wiped counters, set chairs out. Discipleship was happening here!
And it continued to happen. Quads took turns serving and teaching the various groups of students, ranging from preschoolers to teens. Some kids brought their families—Austin’s entire family came to Christ and was baptized in the Pelphreys’ pool. The Mound House Church, in obedience to the Great Commission, was effectively reaching their corner Miamisburg for Christ.
Then, God enlarged their vision. This came about partly through the group’s study of the book, The Hole in Our Gospel, by Richard Sterns, CEO of World Vision. The book, Brian said, “…took us from mission as being important, to it being written on our hearts.” They came away from their book study with a widened, three-fold goal for missions, paralleling the model Jesus set forth in the Great Commission. Their mission efforts would be directed “Here, there and everywhere.”
Here: In Miamisburg, the group would continue to reach out to their friends from the apartments, in particular, the group of growing kids they had adopted.
There: They hatched a plan to serve a meal once a month at Target Dayton Ministries in downtown Dayton.
Everywhere: They would raise enough money to donate a well to supply clean water to a community in Africa through an organization called Charity: Water.
It was a God-honoring and obedient plan. It was an others-focused plan, and sacrificial. It was a plan that took into account God’s love for the lost, His valuing of the needy, His passion for justice.
It was an expensive plan.
Together, Mound House Church members set a three month goal: Raise $6,000. One thousand dollars of the amount raised would go toward purchasing food to serve at Target Dayton and the rest toward donating the well in Africa. It was a tall order, and as the group sat down to brainstorm fundraising possibilities, the order seemed to grow taller. Brian described his feelings at one point in the conversation as people began offering up fundraising ideas. “Oh great,” he thought. “We’re going to raise $8.00!”
But, as all God’s servants know (and as most of us sometimes have a hard time believing), “…with God all things are possible” (Matthew 10:27).
House church members rose to the occasion and used their gifts. One girl made and sold jewelry. A woman who owned a farm held a horse jump-a-thon, in which her horseback-riding students amassed pledges for the number of times they jumped their horses; the house church sold snacks for the event. People had garage sales. There was a block party—donations welcomed but not required—to raise money for the well, complete with music, a bouncy house, snow cones and pony rides. Neighborhood children came bearing baggies full of coins, telling tales of broken piggy banks. Halfway through the party, the house church shared not only about the need for clean drinking water, but about our need for the Living Water, Jesus.
In the end, God—as He always does—provided for His work. In fact, He provided “…far more abundantly beyond…” what the group had envisioned. All told, they had raised $13,000—enough for two wells plus meals for Target Dayton—evidence that God builds His people’s faith as they turn to Him with a trust that is willing to act in obedience.
Action, the book of James tells us, is an evidence of a genuine faith, and an action required of all Christ-followers is disciple-making. As house churches, how are we doing when it comes to being obedient to this directive? Are we looking for where God is working and then joining that work? Are our priorities Kingdom priorities? Because serving the King, after all, is the only thing that matters.
“But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” James 1:25 (ESV)
Author: Erin Steelman