"You shop and I'll go fishing," I told Pauline, as we entered her favorite department store at the mall.
"Sounds good to me," she replied.
Just outside the back mall entrance to this popular store, there's a spot for tired shoppers and others (often husbands waiting for their wives) to sit, talk and relax. It's one of my favorite fishing holes.
Let me explain.
Our Lord told his disciples he would make them fishers of men (Matthew 4:19), meaning he was going to change their purpose in life from catching fish to sharing their faith. Their primary collective and individual interest would now move from perch to people. They would spend their lives looking for those who were hurting, troubled and desperate to find peace.
During the next three years, these former fishers would watch their master model his charge to them. He would reach out to people of all income levels and vocations in order to introduce them to a new way of living that would fill the empty places in their lives. Some would criticize him for associating with those they considered beneath them, people they thought were too sinful or unimportant to be deserving of his time. But he kept extending grace to both the down and out and the up and out; offering forgiveness, hope and a reason to live.
The disciples had expected their leader to do things on a grand scale, finally declaring himself to be a king and liberating them from the bondage of the Roman Empire, but he seemed to be more interested in changing the lives of prostitutes, prodigals and children than in formulating a political program. Finally they realized that people were his priority, an example they would later follow and change the world.
This is a lesson churches have had to learn and relearn through the centuries. We're prone to ever be searching for the right program to fill the church and make it successful.
When will we realize that people are more important than programs? A church best fulfills its role by reaching out to hurting people with its Biblical message of love that changes communities one person at a time.
I've had some memorable meetings around the fishing hole at the mall: there was the psychologist who needed counsel, the man in bondage to alcohol who needed to know the one who could set him free, the retired contractor who needed something to build his faith, but today the fish weren't biting; not even nibbling.
Then I saw the catch of the day approaching; a twentyish fellow whose walk and manner announced he was discouraged; that he felt like giving up.
Rising from the bench where I had been sitting, I made my way to where he had stopped to rest and began a friendly conversation with him. Within minutes I learned he had double trouble: he had fallen into bad company and ended up in jail. Now, though released, he was having difficulty retrieving some of his possessions claimed in the arrest.
After sharing my faith with him, I asked my new friend if he knew of a church he could attend, a question that suddenly brightened his mood.
"My grandma's church" he said, adding he'd go with her to church the next day. Then I knew I had become part of a miracle: the answer to a grandmother's prayers. Her wayward grandson had gone to the mall and learned about the greatest bargain in life.
Roger Campbell is an author, radio broadcaster and newspaper columnist from Waterford, Mich. He has written more than 20 books and has had articles published in most major Christian magazines.
He was a pastor for 22 years and has been a guest speaker in Alaska churches from Anchorage to Homer.
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