My dad came to faith late in life. In a series of events only a gracious God could engineer, he told me he trusted Christ around lunchtime on a Tuesday before dying of a massive heart attack just three hours later.
A God-Ordained Church Visit
Integral to his salvation was a decision to visit a small Baptist church. He’d visited a couple of others — unsure of what he was looking for in a church — before he came to one he felt was a fit. Honestly, I don’t know the name of that little church. I know my dad wandered into the sanctuary older, overweight, not “dressed for church” and clearly not looking like a faithful Sunday attender.
But the men of the church —men he’d never met — greeted him, welcomed him and made him feel like family. They even came by during the week to see his garden or share a Diet Pepsi in his carport while hearing his spiritual story of wandering, broken marriages, addiction, anger and sincere curiosity. They loved him toward grace.
He couldn’t have attended that little church more than a dozen times before he died suddenly. My stepmom wanted a simple funeral for him but was cash-strapped, so my brother and I asked the pastor of the church if he would allow my stepmom to celebrate and mourn my dad in their sanctuary. He gladly agreed. We honored my dad and honored Christ at his funeral in January 2014 as my stepmom grieved and heard stories of salvation and grace in addition to stories about my dad.
Fast-forward five years. God is at work in my stepmother’s life. She remarried this summer, and her new husband is a Christian. She told me she is beginning to believe and is considering believer’s baptism. Her husband suggested they find a new church together in her town since he moved to her home an hour from his former church. Unsure of where to go, she decided to first take him to my dad’s church.
On their first Sunday, she walked through the door, and the pastor beamed, exclaiming, “You’re Marvin’s wife! Oh what a difference that man made in the story of our church! He was only here a short time, but we were never the same.”
My stepmom, Glynis, and her new husband, Emmitt, are going to continue to attend.
Loving Guests Well
Maybe guests in your church are common, weekly occurrences; maybe guests are rare. Either way, each one is a gift. My dad came to faith because, when he was far from Christ, men and women welcomed him, sat with him, drank Diet Pepsi with him, answered his questions, walked his garden and modeled the Gospel. Before he could trust Christ’s love he needed to trust Christians’ love, and he found a trustworthy little church who viewed him as a lost sheep and a lost coin to be sought and celebrated.
When guests walk through the doors of our church buildings, we have a chance to love them like that. What a sacred trust has been given to us! Marvin Mangrum is in heaven because a church loved well. And Glynis Mangrum Foster and Emmitt Foster are now attending that church. Who knows what God will do next?
I trust that we need to love well for another reason. Our guests may be God’s divine agents to forever change us. I loved the testimony of the pastor: “Our church was never the same because of that man!”
I pray men (and women) in New England — like my dad but with different accents and different stories — walk through the doors of Christ Church Charlestown and through the doors of your church. And I pray that I get it right, and you get it right, and we love them well.
We never know how that love will change their story and the stories of those around them. And we never know how they will change us and our churches’ stories as well.
JD Mangrum is the church planting pastor of Christ Church Charlestown in Charlestown, MA.