How My Worst Moment Produced New Ministry in Our Church by Tony Rea

How My Worst Moment Produced New Ministry in Our Church
Tony Rea

Tony Rea and his wife, Terese, are the founding pastors of Community Christian Church in Sterling Heights, Michigan. The church was launched with a handful of people in a rented school building in February 1992 and just celebrated 22 years of ministry. Community Christian Church is a friendly church with a huge heart for people. The CCC members are also very passionate about their love for God (Matthew 22). Tony has been married to Terese for 38 years, and they have two sons who are both married and in ministry with them at Community Christian. 

worse-momentThe book of Matthew, Chapter 12, records the story of a man with a withered or crippled hand.

Now when He had departed from there, He went into their synagogue. And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand. And they asked Him, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” that they might accuse Him. Then Jesus said to them, “What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and it was restored as whole as the other. Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him. (Matthew 12:9-14 NKJV)

Without getting into the whole issue of the Sabbath Day, I would imagine this guy with the messed up hand attended church week after week, but no one seemed to care or be concerned about his condition. Chances are no one in the church even knew how badly he was hurting or how much emotional and spiritual pain he was experiencing; no one that is, other than Jesus. Jesus was the only one paying close attention, and Jesus took the time to minister to this man and bring healing to him.

Last year, on the Thursday before Easter Sunday, my seven-week-old grandson, Anthony Nathaniel, died (my firstborn son’s son). He was diagnosed with a rare chromosome illness before he was born, which caused him to struggle to breathe and eat on his own. Even though everything the doctors and specialists told us about Anthony’s condition came true, and even though from a medical standpoint there was zero chance of long term survival, still we held on for a miracle. We fasted and prayed and exercised faith, and as a ministry family we turned to God for grace and emotional strength. When Anthony began to take a turn for the worse, we prayed even harder. A few days later when he died, we were all devastated. It was hard for us to comprehend losing a family member.

For the next few days I stayed very close to my family and did all that I could to minister to my wife who was grief-stricken. Because it was such an emotional time for us and I really wanted my family to know how much I valued and loved them, I decided not to preach the Easter message. It was the first time in 22 years that I didn’t deliver the Easter sermon at our church. As much as I was hurting on the inside, I think I could have given the message, especially after all the work we did to prepare for that service, including the song, video content, and other special elements. I mean, come on. It’s the biggest service of the year. I probably could have pulled it off, but I didn’t want to cast a dark shadow on my own congregation and take away their joy, knowing how badly the people would feel for me if I stood up to speak that day. So, I opted out and one of the other pastors preached.

Since it was Easter, I still wanted to be in church to draw strength from the Lord and celebrate his victory. I’ve been a Christian for 40 years and even before I was a Christian, I never missed church on Easter. I decided to attend a church near my house where no one would recognize me. When I pulled into the parking lot of the church I had never attended before, I was really struggling emotionally. As soon as I parked the car, I burst into tears and had to sit in my car for a few minutes before I went inside. My heart was broken. I was crushed and felt as though someone had taken a hunting knife and cut all my insides out. That’s how empty I felt. I managed to get out of the car and make my way toward the entrance. A greeter handed me a bulletin on the way in and an usher said goodbye on my way out. The service was inspirational, I think. The special choir music was well rehearsed and the pastor gave a textbook Easter message. He ended the service with a call for salvation, but just like the man in Matthew 12 who was sitting in church with a broken hand, no one had a clue I was sitting there with a broken heart. With the exception of the usher and greeter, I left the service without any other person making contact with me.

Now my intention with this story is not to say anything negative about the church I attended that day. They didn’t know what I was going through, and I’m sure I had a “Do Not Disturb” sign on my forehead. But as I sat there during the service, I wondered how many people come to my church on a weekly basis feeling just like I did that day. I wondered how many hurting and hopeless people come and go without a single person reaching out to them. As I thought about that over the next few days, I said, “God, I don’t ever want that to happen at Community Christian Church.” Even though we try to be a friendly church, and we have systems in place to welcome visitors, I made a commitment at that time to be much more aware and more sensitive to the needs of hurting people.

A short time later, I met with my Lead Staff and I explained everything I experienced on Easter Sunday. I told them how I felt and what I went through and how I wanted us to do our best to prevent that from happening at CCC. I then introduced a “sanctuary connection” idea where we would actually place volunteers in the sanctuary before and after the service. This Connection Team was to be there in the sanctuary with one purpose only: to interact with the people and greet them again (they were greeted coming in). I told my staff that I want the Connection Team to specifically be on the look-out for people who appear like they need ministry.

It has been one year since we introduced this special sanctuary endeavor, and it’s working very well for us. With the Sanctuary Connection Team, we are interacting with members who have been at the church for years. We are also getting another opportunity to meet visitors and connect with them. Additionally, anyone who appears as though something is bothering them is approached and asked if there is anything we can do (i.e., pray, counsel, help, etc.).

To date, I have not received one single complaint about people having their privacy invaded or people reacting negatively to the Connection Team. What has happened is a greater awareness of needs, a closer more personal connection with members, and increased attendance in New Community luncheons (for visitors and people just starting to attend). Additionally, our coffee and donut social time after service has nearly doubled in attendance in the last year and more people are hanging around the lobby and fellowship hall.

People come to church to worship God, hear his word, and grow in their faith – no doubt about it. But connecting people with people, getting to know them, building community, and demonstrating care and concern speaks volumes and will grow your church in every way.