Some of what I know about the Great Commission I learned in a classroom. Some of it was taught to me by a county coroner. And a guy who works at a funeral home. And a retired teacher.
My first full-time ministry position was in a town that didn’t have any stop lights. There were barely any neighborhoods. The only time we ever had any traffic jams was when some guy had to drive his tractor on the main highway that ran through the town square. As I saw it, engaging the culture with the gospel meant loading up the church van and taking people a few hours up the road to work in a homeless shelter in a large city. It wasn’t until I became a pastor in another small town that I realized how wrong I was. The gospel we proclaim is not limited by the population of the town where our churches and homes happen to be located.
Part of Ralph’s job as coroner is to be present whenever the state of Georgia carries out the death penalty. The day of the execution, Ralph and I usually talk on the phone. Sometimes I call him and sometimes he calls me. We always pray. And Ralph always says some variation of the same thing. He tells me that he doesn’t know anything about the crimes that were committed. He’s not interested in the politics of the death penalty. His main concern is the salvation of the man whose life is about to come to an end. As chemicals are being injected into the arm of a man just feet away from him, Ralph is praying for the salvation of that man. I like to imagine seeing a few of those men in heaven because of God graciously working through Ralph’s prayers.
Rudy is the unofficial pastor of the county where I live. When there’s a death in the family, people call Rudy. Part of that is because he works at the funeral home. I think another part of the reason why they call Rudy is because they just like to have him around. He brings peace to their grief. A lot of times, the families that call Rudy are not affiliated with a church. Preaching a funeral is never easy. Preaching the funeral of a person who has never had any connection with a church can be overwhelming. Rudy does it often. He’s had to break up fights near caskets. He’s witnessed family members steal jewelry off of the deceased. He’s seen it all. And whenever he’s asked to, “speak on a funeral” as he calls it, he always shares the gospel. But Rudy’s preaching doesn’t stop there. When he’s called to pick up a body at 2 in the morning, he brings the gospel with him.
Cathy retired from teaching several years ago but she knows that there’s no such thing as retiring from the mission God has given to her. Rather than relocating to some beachfront property, Cathy and her husband stayed put when she retired. In a lot of ways, it’s like she never left the classroom. She’s led tutorial sessions at the community center. She helps to make sure that kids in our community have book bags when it’s time to start a new year of school. Cathy knows that when the school cafeteria shuts down for the summer, a lot of kids don’t get fed. She has worked diligently to make sure that that doesn’t happen anymore for the kids in one trailer park in our county. But it’s more than just food and book bags. Anyone can do that. Cathy’s work is saturated with the gospel.
Pastor, your small town might not have a homeless shelter. Your church might not have the resources to start a nonprofit to take care of the water crisis in some far away country. But if your town has a school, you can be sure that your town has pain. There are kids there who are hungry. There are kids there who are abandoned by their parents. There are kids there who need people like Cathy.
Pastor, your town might not have a high murder rate. But people in your town do die. And when that happens, it’s good if the first man on the scene comes carrying the gospel hope that he’s learned from your preaching.
When most people hear about first responders, they think about police officers and firefighters. I think about Ralph and Rudy and Cathy. When there is a grieving family or a child with an empty stomach, they are usually the first ones on the scene. They don’t go somewhere else in an effort to be missional. They shine where they are. And our community is better because of them.