That’s what I said during a radio interview with WRMB in South Florida recently. Even as I said it, I realized it might sound like a simple over statement to many people, including some Christ-followers. But who knows what each of us is capable of without the redeeming work of God in our lives? What have we been saved from becoming? Of all people, we know the power of God unto salvation, the reality of changed and freed lives, and the impact of radical love.
I check my own heart as I say the words. Yes! I believe it! Radical love could have saved the Parkland shooter from targeting his pain and suffering into the world until 17 innocent classmates lay dead at his feet.
I believe that. And I believe something else; the church already knows how to lead our violence-wracked, divided country into a place of healing. The national debate on gun control is a stuck needle and impotent. Looking to our government for hope or solutions that will protect our children and others as well is already too little too late.
But even as the news swells with accounts of radical Islam, and radicalized-by-hate students rampaging through their campuses, we cannot give up hope.
The hope for our culture is found in the Jesus way. The church has been traveling this pathway for thousands of years. We know how to love radically. We don’t always get it right, but when we do…everything can change.
“Well, what does radical love look like in our churches today?” the radio interviewer asked me.
It starts with kids. Really. When we love a community’s children, we will have more influence and more church growth than we can handle. We may also heal a child who is on his or her way to pumping the world with his pain from the trigger of an AR-15 assault rifle.
Radical love is the kind that opens a church’s door to every child within its reach. That means every child…the kid with behavior problems, children from dysfunctional and hard-to-work-with homes, the children of poverty, children who are already social outcasts, children with special needs, children of different nationalities and tongues. The others. The different. The quirky. The odd. The left out. The overlooked. The abused. The neglected. The hungry. The lonely. The bullied. The ones already sliding into despair. When Jesus said, “Let the children come,” I’m pretty sure he wasn’t thinking about only church kids whose lives are supported by believing, loving homes. His words were meant to carry those “other” kids through our church doors and into our hearts.
Radical love looks a lot like Oakwood Baptist Church in New Braunfels, Texas. This church started Awana a year ago. I spoke to the Senior Pastor, Ray Still, and their Executive Pastor, Rusty Rice recently. They were eager to tell me what their first year had been like.
Rusty started their story, “We thought we might have 300 kids come, but instead 500 are showing up. Everyone on staff from our senior pastor and down through the ranks is working at Awana—registering kids, leading small groups, organizing game time, listening to verses, and leading the large group time.”
They were smiling. This wasn’t bad news. They were excited to share the news of their abundance of children with me.
“Yes, and we decided to feed them pizza every night.”
Magic formula right there! I thought to myself.
Ray Still, the senior pastor, talked about a special kid in his small group of nine grade school boys.
“I have this one kid in my group who is a nightmare. He is a full-time job for me almost every week. Recently, I met his mother. I said ‘I would like to talk to you about your son.’
I saw her face drop as she prepared herself for the familiar-to her bad news.”
I knew what was coming. Or at least I thought I did.
He continued “We love having your boy at our church. He is always welcome here and we are doing just great.”
Ray was smiling now. “I saw her face light up. She had steeled herself for the usual bad report. You could see how surprised she was that finally there was a word of encouragement coming from somewhere in the world about her child!”
That child is an accident waiting to happen to all of us without the church in New Braunfels, Texas. A couple of hours a week in the presence of caring adults and a loving community can turn a child’s life completely around.
Here’s to the radical love of a pastor who gets out of the pulpit once a week to love and disciple kids from his community!
Here’s to the radical love of a church that feeds 500 hungry kids every week as a regular part of their church budget!
Someone sent me a picture of just such a pastor recently. It’s Jeremy Elam of Peavine Baptist Church of Rock Spring, Georgia. He’s lying on the floor at his church playing video games with a kid and a stuffed animal. I’m pretty sure that’s not in his job description. I just love that picture. Can’t even tell you why except…
That’s what radical love looks like. If we do the math… with over 9,000 Awana churches in the States, 52,000 churches internationally… what if we all got it right? What if we started with the kids and loved them in the Jesus Way?
Radical love could have saved 17 kids in Parkland, Florida. It could have saved Nikolas Cruz as well.
Do you believe it? If you do, will you do one more thing?
If you know a pastor or church that is practicing radical love in their community, would you write us and tell us that story? We would so love to hear it, applaud it and pass it on so that we can all be inspired to love the “other” more radically.
Awana is a world-wide nonprofit ministry focused on providing Bible-based evangelism and discipleship solutions for ages 2-18. As the global leader in child and youth discipleship, Awana gives children the opportunity to know, love and serve Jesus, no matter their background. Through equipped and empower leaders, God is using Awana to reach over 4 million kids every week in 120 countries through partnership with 50,000 churches around the world. If you are an Awana leader, parent or pastor with Awana in your church, you are part of this amazing global God-story.