I couldn’t believe we decided to cancel our Sunday service.
BY ANDREW ALESSO
On July 1st at Thrive LA we asked our entire congregation to skip church and go participate in a fundraiser hosted by a local small business on behalf of families separated and detained at the border. It wasn’t even a Christian event.
The event raised over $15,000 for free legal aid for those families, helped us form amazing relationships with a positive witness in our community, and helped catalyze our congregation towards lifestyles of service.
I’m glad that our church was able to contribute and serve in this way, but we easily could have missed the opportunity. I’d never been part of a church that had ever done something quite like this before, so when one of my ministry leaders approached me with the idea I had a lot to consider.
Sundays Are For Sermons, Aren’t They?
In my tradition, to cancel a Sunday service is unheard of and radical. I wondered, “Will we get a really low turnout for this event? Are we capable of communicating it well? What will happen to attendance the week before and the week after? Is this even allowed?”
I believe there is unique value when the church gathers together regularly for praise, teaching, communion, and baptism. But ultimately, we decided that we would be missing out if we didn’t use this particular Sunday for a different kind of worship — a worship through service and collaboration.
We concluded that giving our congregation a unique opportunity to serve and give was more valuable than any one message I could give or any momentum we would lose. We did this to be a witness to our community and to meet the needs of families, but we also felt like it was a strategic way to give the new believers and non-believers in our congregation a vivid lesson on the biblical value of sacrificial service.
Who Wants To Be a Political Pastor?
The hardest part was the fact that social justice can be really complicated. To engage our church in a fundraiser for these kids meant that we were unavoidably associating ourselves to a political issue in tense political times. We had no control over people’s assumptions about our motives and our political stances.
To be clear, I didn’t become a pastor as a way to implement political change. I became a pastor because I love introducing people to Jesus! I don’t like talking about politics and I usually like it even less when churches talk politics. For most of my ministry I’ve tried to avoid controversial political conversations to focus on faith in Jesus.
On the one hand, the primary mission of the church is to make disciples. Yes, we teach those disciples to love their neighbor, but if we allow the American political cycle to define our priorities we are going to be distracted and bogged down.
But on the other hand, when did God’s people receive permission to pass by our hurting neighbor because it was complicated or inconvenient? If we aren’t training our people to stand with the hurting, the poor, and the marginalized, can we really call ourselves a church or call our people disciples?
Most people want to live in a just and moral world; it’s just that we don’t have divine revelation on exactly how to get there in every situation. Just as Jesus had a zealot and a tax collector on his team, I have people on both sides of the political aisle in my church.
Serving at this fundraiser was never intended as a corporate stance on every nuance of immigration in America or on any particular political leaders. We simply said, “We must do our part to love children who are in a tough spot right now.”
I can’t claim to be the expert on candidates or policy, but I can be bold and winsome in asking people from every walk of life to adopt the values and character of Jesus. We can’t allow the noise around politics to keep us from making disciples who love with action. We have to be willing to do whatever it takes to show others how to live and act with the mind of Christ.
The Value of Partnership
At the end of the day, I want to see people come to faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. His gospel provides peace with God, but it also offers healing and reconciliation for families, communities, and nations. It invites every generation, political tribe, and ethnicity into a beautiful and messy family.
This event allowed us to partner with local businesses and non-profits without making it about us. Serving in this way built gospel bridges. Jesus and his church are receiving favor in our neighborhood because we were willing to be humble and courageous at a crucial moment.
You may be like me, squeamish about politics and the church, but I pray we each have the boldness to do whatever good deeds will bring gospel favor to the neighborhoods in which we serve.
Andrew Alesso is the pastor of Thrive LA located in the Silver Lake area. The church opened its doors just 9 months ago. He recently retweeted:
“There are some needs only you can see. There are some hands only you can hold. There are some people only you can reach.” – Timothy Keller
Photo: Pastor Andrew Alesso with wife, Katie, and son, Daxton.