Sometimes in life, you go with the flow. You help where you can, plug in where it makes sense and focus on the needs that seem to be obvious. A few years back, I was going with the flow, in my spare time helping plant churches with my local church. Somehow, I ended up being the default Pastor of one of those churches.
Throughout that time in my life, to be completely honest, I didn’t know if I was saying the right thing, doing the right thing, or representing the church the right way. However, I always knew Jesus was in the midst. Jesus wove himself throughout everything. Frankly, I felt a calm peace that helped me know that Jesus walked with me. While planting this church, I saw Jesus move in spite of myself. Never was there a better or more moving time than the story of Sam.
Our church was a small little campus in downtown Atlanta, Georgia. We resided in the Little 5 Points community. There’s no way to describe this community accurately; you just have to feel it. The people are accepting here, loving here, but also hurting here. Much of the hurt comes from a rejection of their inner being, a rejection by the group of people that says they love them and God loves them…a rejection by us.
We made headway by having no agenda but to love. We found ourselves meeting in an incredible theatre on Sunday mornings. This theatre was, and still is, run by incredible folks. However, they frequently have provocative and socially challenging plays running Friday and Saturday night. The next day was our Sunday services.
When I first stumbled upon this place, I went with a real pastor to meet the theatre manager. We sat waiting in the coffee shop connected to the theatre, and in bubble letters on the window of the coffee shop was the word “adultery.” I remember telling the other pastor, “I am not sure if they promote adultery, or if it’s just a drink… but this is where Jesus wants us.” This was our home!
Soon enough the theatre manager came and found us and began the tour of the place. He was willing to rent to us, but he thought there could be some issues. He had three:
1. The aforementioned plays (could you believe, he didn’t want to be offensive to us!)
2. There were a few Sundays we just couldn’t meet
3. The real issue: he hated churches!
The other pastor and I knew what he meant by hating churches. We assured him we were here to love and not judge. In fact, we told him “God judges, the Holy Spirit Convicts, We Love.” That was our thesis. That was our agenda. That was our path forward.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” – 1 John 4:7-8
It worked, and we started renting the theatre every Sunday. It was during those first few months that I met a homeless man named Sam.