Each weekend the working poor and transitional homeless in our communities have been treated to a simple potluck breakfast and a church service.
The menu may vary, the faces may change, and the crowd size may fluctuate. But, regardless of what changes from week to week, one thing is guaranteed to stay the same – we’re gonna have church.
Motel Church has always been “church first, breakfast second.” In fact, if you really get right down to it, it has never ever been about the food.
There are thousands of ministries and organizations focused on feeding the poor. Many are absolutely wonderful groups tirelessly pursuing God’s calling for their lives. I cannot say enough about how awesome these groups are. There is nothing wrong with what they do.
That’s just not what we do.
The Motel Church Calling
God gave us a different calling. The vision God gave us was to plant churches where nobody wants to plant churches. God called us to reach out to the poor, the hurting and the un-noticed. He told us to walk up to these people and say, “You haven’t gone un-noticed. I see you. Your Heavenly Father sees you. You matter, and you are loved.”
“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
– Matthew 18:20
In the years since God gave us our marching orders we’ve lived Matthew 18:20 to the fullest. Each Saturday and Sunday we’ve taken a stand. We’ve said to our motel guests, “I know you see a run down parking lot filled with drugs and hopelessness but that’s not what I see because you are here and I’m here so I know that my God is here and on this day I see a church.”
Every week we’ve shown our guests love and affection and we’ve introduced them to a Father in Heaven who loves them more than words can describe. We’ve shown them a God who wants a relationship with them so badly that he sacrificed the life of his only son in order to make sure that relationship would last forever.
That’s what Motel Church is about. It has never ever been about the food.
The Lesson that Rocked My Worldview
A couple years ago God blessed me with a lesson that I will never forget. I was the pastor at a new Motel Church location during a time when we had no volunteers. No volunteers meant…no food.
My wife and I would spend what little money we had on eggs and fruit. We’d stay up late preparing the meals the night before and the next day we would show up to the motel self-consciously dishing out our embarrassingly meager breakfast to the few guests who came.
This became a weekly occurrence. I began to resent my leaders and resent the volunteers who rarely committed to showing up. Eventually I stopped trying to come up with a good sermon each week.
You see I experienced what many in this ministry have become scared of: little food means a little crowd. And like many, I grew up with the worldview that big churches are the only churches. I believed that quantity was the only gauge. I was wrong.
So, with that warped view of ministry success, my heart began to harden. God called me to preach to these people and nobody is showing up because we don’t have any food. What is the point in trying anymore? Empty chairs equal failure. Why am I even here?
Then one day God decided to show me why I was there. It was the day I preached to a crowd… of two people. Despite my growing resentment, for some reason I prepared a solid sermon. I spent hours on it the week before but when it came time to preach I simply folded up my extensive message outline and shoved it in my pocket. There was no point wasting this sermon on just two people.
I phoned it in. I pulled some stuff out of my head that I remembered from one of my Dad’s old sermons and combined that with whatever I remembered from college. Who cares, it’s just two people. They probably aren’t listening anyway. They only came for the food.
I wrapped up my “sermon” and quickly began trying to figure out how fast I could get the tables and chairs in to my car and drive away. Then she came up to me.
“Adam, thank you for your sermon.”
“Huh?”, I blurted.
“Thank you for your sermon. I needed to hear that today. I really appreciate you coming out here and sharing your message with us.”
I don’t remember any other part of our conversation. I don’t even remember her name. But I’ll never forget what God said to me as I watched her walk away.
“The people who show up are the people I want to show up. Don’t you ever think two people aren’t worth your time. I called you to serve me by serving these people. I never said how many there would be.”
I cried the entire drive home and I’ve never phoned in a sermon again. I’ve preached to crowds of 2, 3 and so many I couldn’t count. But the numbers no longer matter to me.
In a world where Sunday morning turnouts often matter more than Gospel; my God reminded me what really matters. Where two or three gather in His name, there He is with them.
Each week I hear volunteers stress over our breakfasts as if that’s the bait we have to use to get people on the hook – as if God needs our eggs to change lives. I’ve witnessed people with a “cook it and they will come” philosophy turn a parking lot church into just another city-wide all you can eat buffet.
It makes me sad because I’m always reminded of that lesson God taught me. It’s not about numbers. It’s not about the food. It’s about the people who God brings to our church service. He knows their names before we do. He knows their pain. He knows their history. He even knows their future…and the awesome future they can have with Him.
We are Motel Church. We’re not just looking for poor people with empty stomachs. No, we’re looking for hurting people with empty hearts. Sometimes those people are homeless and sometimes those people are millionaire volunteers showing up for their “good deed.”
An empty heart is an empty heart and the people who show up, be it to serve or to be served – those are the people God wants there on that day.
May you never forget that we are a church first. Eggs, if we have them, are just a bonus.