The Stigmatized and Neglected: The Unchurched

Some stories make an indelible impression on you. With all the talk of methods and programs and apps and cute events for outreach the greatest impression I have of the greatest soul sinner I have ever known is really rather simple.

It was a bright summer day in Alabama before the heat hit hard and we were knocking doors in Tarrant City, an area with a tough reputation in a city that had known turmoil. 

It seemed we knocked doors every weekend (a task I dreaded resulting from a dread fear of canines (not all dogs scared me, just ones with teeth).  But this day was to be different than any other for my “door-knocking partner” was my dad, Jerry A. Jenkins.  That meant two things: 1. No sluffin’ off 2. We’d knock every door.  

In my minds eye I still see the house.  Old, run down, in serious need of some nails and paint. What once had been a below average house even in it’s below average neighborhood was in serious need or repair - or better yet - just plow it down and start over.  What grass grew in a mostly dusty front yard needed a good trim and the white picket fence surrounding the property boasted that once upon a time someone(s) lived in that house that cared. But that was obviously long ago. Frankly the property looked abandoned.  The front door was even sitting half off to the side.  

Abandoned or not, we were going in and knocking that door. Which was fine with me, because, no people = no dog. One less to confront.  

We knocked. Dad “spoke into the house” - “anybody home.” No answer. 

On to the next house.


Except.

As we turned toward the next house.

I saw them first and hoped dad wouldn’t.

But he did.

And so we went back. Back behind the house were a group of guys working on their “hogs” (motorcycles). 

So we went back. 

Dad walked up to what I think was the biggest of them. And with his famous Jerry Jenkins smile said: “Hi, I’m Jerry Jenkins from the Woodlawn Church of Christ and we’re out today inviting people to sign up to study the Bible with people. We have a 9 lesson series that we will mail you free of charge…would you like to sign up to study the Bible?”

In my 9 year old brain I processed quickly: “Jerry A. Jenkins, born 1939, father of four…” After all, somebody had to write the obituary.  

He stared at dad. I thought he was gonna play “punch the preacher.” And after what seemed a long time said: “My momma used to read me the Bible back when I was a little boy. She’s been gone a long time. Sure I’ll take your course.”

He did.

He completed the John Hurt Bible Correspondence Course and dad took him his framed certificate and invited him to watch the Visualized Bible Study Film Strips by Jule Miller.  

He did.

At the close of filmstrip number four dad asked him the question he’d asked over a thousand times: “Is there any reason that you would not want me to baptize you tonight in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins so you can be a simple New Testament Christian?”  

And he did. 

He came to church the next Wednesday night.  Long greasy hair, dirty hands and a dirty white t-shirt.  He was different. Sat on the back row. Dad introduced him as our newest brother in Christ.  Weeks went by he was there “every time the doors were opened.” It seemed the longer he came the more he cleaned up the closer to the front he sat. 

We watched. Me and Timmy and Keith and Jeff.  Front row observers (front row because mom and dad had a rule - we could sit anywhere we wanted to in the building as long as it was in front of her - and she sat on the second row!) to a thing of beauty. Redemption and change in a life.  

Until. 

One Wednesday night. He wasn’t there. His absence was as conspicuous as his presence had been weeks before when he first showed up.  The doors into the auditorium were already closed and we were on the second song.

Then those same doors opened and in walked our biker friend - and beside him - a guy who looked as rough as he had a few months before.  And he came back again and again and in a few weeks biker guy #2 was baptized. That little narrative repeated itself several times over.  A string of beautiful snapshots of grace.  

Not because of debate, or because of a program of work, or because of some creative genius. But because a man loved the souls of others and sat down with him and shared the glorious, grace-filled Gospel of salvation.  

I love cool and creative. I crave innovative and fresh. BUT if we are to reach the unchurched it will be because we love the souls of men and women enough to tell them the story of Jesus. 

That gal/guy who looks the the worst prospect in the world - has a soul and is quite possibly a bigger seeker than the one who is already cleaned and ready to step into the “suit” of a Christian.  There are many seeking. The gospel is powerful. We must believe that and share it with others.  Then the unchurched will be touched. The outcast will be saved. The church will grow healthy and God will smile. No, more than that. He will rejoice (re-read Luke 15:7 & 10 and notice the rejoicing is “in the presence of the angels” - it’s not the angels. They are in the presence of God).  

Guest Author: Dale Jenkins


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