On May 20th 2013 a 2-mile-wide tornado tore through the Oklahoma City metro destroying entire tracts of homes, piling cars atop one another, and trapping two dozen school children beneath rubble. There were 29 confirmed deaths—many were children and 350 people were injured. Approximately 1,150 homes were destroyed, resulting in an estimated $2 billion in damages. Entire subdivisions were annihilated and businesses were flattened in a large swath of the city. Eyewitnesses said the tornado was “a giant black wall of destruction.”
It was a tragic and horrible moment for our city, state, and country. It was, however, an historic opportunity for the capital “C” Church to be salt and light and for a few precious days, that is exactly what happened! Denominational, racial, political, and theological divisions came down, and churches worked together for the good of their city. Brian Williams of NBC news reported, “There is FEMA and then there is a Faith-based FEMA…churches have banded together and have been the first to respond and help.” The national media was amazed and positively reported on the loving initial response of the local Church. Thousands of local volunteers were mobilized for cleanup and rebuilding work. Hundreds of families who lost their homes were taken into the homes of both friends and neighbors. Millions of dollars in donations and local resources were given to help those in need. For a beautiful moment, the local Church worked together in unity.
Our response as a Church was filled with compassion, but, in reality, it was failure based on our untapped resources and potential. While there were pockets of organization, as the Church of our city, we were simply responding and completely unprepared. Our lack of relationships and disunity impeded what should have been a powerful, coordinated, and strategic response from our city’s largest volunteer and charitable organization, the local Church. Much of the material donations were unneeded and caused logjams that actually slowed relief efforts. People who wanted to give of their time, expertise, and resources were unable to effectively do so because of our overall absence of stewardship and leadership. We, as the Church, could have done and been so much more for our city.
What happened to our city on that day was incredibly tragic, and our failure to redefine how an unbelieving World sees the local Church was equally as tragic. In recent years, much has been written and discussed in regards to how a rapidly growing group of those outside of our faith negatively perceive Christianity. The daily headlines of our national and local news are filled with our culture’s seemingly unstoppable slide toward moral decay, which should serve to confirm this for all who call themselves followers of Jesus. We have allowed ourselves to be defined by those who oppose us. We are failing at being defined by our love for one another and for our neighbors.
We live in a moment in history where the opportunity of the Church has never been greater. The first step in answering the call of our time must begin with UNITY.
▪ What if the churches within a city saw themselves not as separate and at worst competing?
▪ What if unity was what the local Church was known for not division?
▪ What if we prepared in unity to care for our city, for our neighbors in times of need?
▪ What if the vast God-given resources of the Church were unified and strategically deployed?
▪ What if we were defined not by what we are against, but by what we are for?
I believe we can find the answer to “What if?” in John 17. First, the prayer of our Savior would be answered, and, through our unity, the World would believe and know that JESUS IS LORD.
John 17: 20-23
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one - I in them and you in me - so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Father, make us one!
SALLTed: Kingdom United, Community Connected, Families Prepared, hosted by SALLT, will be at the unity of the Church and preparedness and will be on Friday, October 2, 2015 in Oklahoma City. For more information visit sallted.com.
Trevor Williams has pastored at three different LifeChurch campuses in South OKC, Midwest City and Edmond. he is currently lead pastor at the Shawnee, Oklahoma location