When I see the cover to Darrin Patrick’s new book Church Planter: The Man, The Message, The Mission, I’m inspired to believe that with a sweet Bible in one hand and sickle in the other, I could plant a church and fill it with thousands of thick black-rimmed glasses and lots of pairs of skinny jeans. Other people I’ve talked to think it looks like the poster for a new Christian/horror film fusion called “I Know What You Did Last Summer Because I’m Omniscient.” Personally, I’m a fan.
Anyway, I was reading in that book recently and came across the following story which Mr. Patrick quotes at length, and I’m going to do the same. It’s the story of how a man named Alex Early planted Four Corners Church over in Georgia. The heart and initiative behind the story absolutely fires me up. I’m being reminded just how much I have a heart for the kind of people that you typically would never see set foot in a church building, so I loved this. Take it away, Mr. Early:
In January of 2007, I left a cushy church job for something more radical. I had continued to read the Gospels over and over again and continued to see Jesus as a “friend of sinners.” I scrolled through my phone and looked at my calendar. Everyone in my life was a Christian, white, upper-middle-class, Republican. I knew no “sinners.” I started to think, “Who in the Bible belt doesn’t know Jesus and why?” I thought of the local bar scene. I thought of the homosexual community.
God told me to quit my church job and go downtown to a gay-friendly bar called the Alamo and get a job there. The clientele is unique, and the staff are covered in sleeve tats and are quite open about their atheism. I thought to myself, “Perfect.”
I got a job as a bar-back. My job was to stock fridges and clean the place up. I would substitute teach from 7:45 A.M. -3:15 P.M. and then go to the Alamo from 4:00 P.M. -2:00 A.M. four days a week. I started having conversations with Alamo coworkers and patrons, getting to know them, and slowly having opportunities to share about the person and work of Christ.
Eventually I won the ear of the owner of the Alamo, Amy Murphy. Amy, a thirty-seven-year-old lesbian and self-proclaimed atheist, found out I was planting a church. She asked me about it one day, and when I told her I was hosting a meeting in my living room for people who were interested in the church, she asked if she could come. “Of course,” I said. To my surprise, she actually came.
After the meeting, Amy approached me, saying, “You need a bigger place for church.” I laughed and said, “Yeah, why don’t you give me the Alamo.” In a grace-filled moment of surprise, Amy said, “OK. Done.” And it was. She told me we could have it rent-free, and we started meeting at the Alamo the following Sunday.
Months later, Amy and I were sitting in her backyard on a summer day eating BBQ, and she said, “I feel like I have a new heart. I pray all the time and ask Jesus to forgive me for my sins and help me live for him at work because it’s such a crazy job. I mean I’ve known over the past few months that God was with me, but now I feel like God is actually inside me. Is that normal?”
It was my immense pleasure in that moment to tell Amy that Jesus had saved her, that what she was feeling and experiencing was one of the primary benefits of salvation, the indwelling of God’s Spirit.
Since then, Amy has opened several other bars in and around Atlanta, and she wants to help other churches plant in her spaces so that more people can meet Jesus.
Love it. I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:46-47- “‘For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?'” So I ask you the kind of questions I’ve started to ask myself with increasing regularity: How much diversity is there in the people you love and spend time with? Who in your life do you find extremely difficult to love? Are there people in your life that are uncomfortable to be around (for whatever reason)? And finally, who in your life are you tempted to believe is beyond God’s reach?
“Let me think of the worst individual I know, the one for whom I have no affinity, the one who is a continual thorn in my flesh, who is as mean as can be; can I imagine that person being presented perfect in Christ Jesus? If I can, I have got the beginning of Christian thinking. ”
“And Jesus answered them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.'”