By David Faust
I was part of a team of leaders planting a new church in an urban neighborhood near the University of Cincinnati. We rented a community center for $50 a week, and every Sunday morning my family showed up early to set up chairs, set out chocolate chip cookies, and greet the group of worshippers (mostly young adults) who came each Sunday.
We paid a sign-maker to create a portable message board that we could set out on the sidewalk each week announcing “University Christian Church Meets Here at 10:00 a.m.” The sign-maker used sturdy three-quarter-inch plywood to make the sign, which felt like it weighed a ton. I secretly hated that sign. We kept it in the basement of the community center, and every Sunday morning, rain or shine, volunteers trudged up the stairs lugging that heavy sign out to the sidewalk, all the while privately questioning whether anyone ever would notice it.
An Unconventional Mix
No church plant is easy, and this one faced some particularly daunting challenges. We had few start-up funds. Our leaders all had other full-time jobs, so we couldn’t give as much time and attention to the new church as we would have liked. And the urban neighborhood we were trying to reach included an unconventional mix of long-time homeowners, highly mobile university students, and a high percentage of residents whose income levels fell below the poverty line.
In short, it was a great place to plant a new church. Some experts told us we were trying to do the impossible, but since God specializes in the impossible, it seemed like the right thing to do. Plus, our unique ministry setting offered us the chance to reach international students, young adults who were in the process of shaping their worldview for the rest of their lives, and an assortment of others from a wide variety of generations, races, and economic classes. We found it fun, challenging, and biblical to defy stereotypes. We simply wanted to be an authentic and Bible-based church serving in the heart of our city.
Maybe that’s why Mike liked our church. An ex-hippie and a dental hygienist by trade, he was solidly-built with intense eyes, a short white beard, and a long white pony tail. He claimed to be warm-blooded, so he wore a tee-shirt and shorts year round, even for most of the winter. Mike had lived in the neighborhood for several years, and he played golf on Sunday mornings. But that big plywood sign caught his eye. He started attending our worship services before going to play golf. He kept to himself, but he kept coming.
One day Mike approached me at the chocolate chip cookie table and said, “Dave, would it be okay if I were baptized?” A group of us met at a neighboring church for the baptism, and afterward we went out for ice cream to celebrate with our new brother in Christ.
Mike soon found a way to participate in the church’s ministry. Week after week, he came to church early so he could carry the sign outside and put it on the sidewalk.
A Changed Man
In the months that followed, Mike poured out his heart to me and another church leader and let us know about his long-term struggle with homosexuality. He was determined to follow the Lord in every area, including his sexual behavior, but he wanted us to know the truth about his past.
A lot of time has passed since then. I’ve known Mike for more than 20 years, and I’ve watched him remain faithful to the Lord over the long haul. He became an active leader in a Christian outreach that ministers to homosexuals. He quietly gave large sums of money to Christian causes while continuing to live a simple lifestyle. He witnessed boldly for the Lord in his own unique ways, like wearing one black sock and one white sock when he played golf. (Invariably others would ask about his socks, which gave Mike the chance to say, “My life was dark until Jesus changed me.”) In recent months I watched Mike face cancer and death with unblinking boldness and unflinching faith.
He didn’t want an elaborate funeral. He donated his body to science. He doesn’t have a lot of family members to miss him. But to those of us who knew him, Mike was a special guy.
I’m glad he’s with the Lord now, free from pain.
And I’m glad we carried that heavy sign and put it out on the sidewalk where Mike could see it.
David Faust is president of Cincinnati Christian University, Cincinnati, Ohio, and past Executive Editor of The Lookout.