Going Where the People Are…
51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. Luke 9:51 (NIV)
8 “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?” John 11:8 (NIV)
When I was 18, I had the privilege of being part of a McDonald’s franchise management team. During my time there I got to help “open” a couple of different stores as part of the training team. And so I learned a bit of the strategy of that then rapidly expanding and industry leading fast-food chain for its new stores. It was pretty simple; do traffic studies and market surveys to find out where the people are, then build there!
Of course, there was more to it. You had to have a good product that people wanted and trusted… the now infamous QSC (Quality, Service and Cleanliness) of McDonald’s. But beyond that, locating where people are and being ready to give them good food…not much more needed to be done. It was a strategy that allowed them to become the largest fast food chain in the world.
Perhaps that’s why some 20 years later, as the senior pastor of a decent sized, down-town church in a county seat town, I longed to move my office from the church to the front of the local Wal-Mart. While I got some traffic at the church because of the day-care that was in our building and the post office across the street, the real traffic in that community was at the south end of town where the Wal-Mart, McDonalds and the on ramp to the interstate were.
I never got it done… a little too radical for the time… but guess who went there… McDonalds! Because it was where the people are.
Often when we think of Jesus, we remember Him going out into the wilderness, not going where the people were. But at the same time we see Him sitting in the city gate, watching the people give at the temple, and wading through crowds. He retreated to provide the quality for the rest of the time when He wanted to “dwell among them”…to be where the people are. John clearly indicates this in his Gospel… that Jesus came into the world to “dwell among us”. He further notes that Jesus sought to be with us even when it was dangerous.
Sometimes I wonder about the churches mission strategy… is it to be among the people or to be a separate people. If the church were to truly be among the people it would spend more time being Christ in the workplace and in the marketplace. If it were to be among the people, the churches buildings would not sit empty six days a week.
But if our churches are really going to be among the people it won’t be as clean and as sterile as many of us so often like. It would be messy with broken relationships and ugly addictions. Our buildings would become rundown not so much from age but from overuse… we would struggle to keep the floors clean and the walls painted. So often, we choose to simply stick with a smaller group of people…people we can trust, people like us.
But when we are among the people, where the traffic is, we can offer them the quality product of Christ, His ministries of mercy and grace, healing and wholeness and proclaim His message of Love.
Perhaps it’s time that Christ’s Church set its face for Jerusalem once again… to go where the people are and to meet their needs in Christ’s name because God so loved the world…
Prayer: Lord, I know the message is not new…that you are calling us to be among the people, to go where the people need you. But the temptation to stay in the quiet place, the temptation to stay among the people we trust is great. Help us to “so love” this world that we too will set our face for Jerusalem…to go where the people are. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Steve Van Ostran