Everybody is Somebody
By Dr. Daniel E. Pann
"Everybody is somebody," I encouraged my congregation. "They may be navigating their ship down the channel of life with patched sails of prior journeys, or perhaps, as a new believer, unfurling their sails for the first time. Either way, everybody is somebody."
Little did I know that those words would soon be put to the ultimate test.
It began while I was in Missouri doing a wedding for a young woman who had grown up in our church. Having completed her college education in Michigan, ties to family took her away. It was while she was "away," the Lord brought her into contact with someone special. Sparks of romance were ignited and after several months, he proposed. I was invited to do the honors.
Arrangements were made for a pulpit supply. I enlisted the help of a layman to preach in my absence. We went over the details, nothing special. He just needed to follow the bulletin and everything would be fine. The usual eighty or so attendees could be expected.
The week prior to the wedding, there was a knock on my office door. I looked up to see a stranger hesitantly grinning in my direction. He lived around the corner from us and wanted to stop in to say "hello." We made general conversation and soon it was time for him to get back to work. We shook hands, and he paused before turning the corner. "Oh, by the way, besides me, there might be eleven or twelve others visiting Sunday."
Later I relayed that information to our pulpit supply. He assured me that it would be no problem; heíd be ready.
All went well at the wedding. The bride was beautiful, the groom was nervous, and one of the candle lighting thingies blew out. Other than that, things went as planned.
Soon it was time to go home. After being on the road for several hours, my cell phone rang.
"Hey preacher," the voice on the other end began. "You need to learn how to count."
"Why is that?"
"We had eleven visitors like you said."
"Add sixty more to that."
I was told that my young fill-in had looked like a deer caught in the headlights. People kept coming and coming until the place was two-thirds full. Though unnerved, he was excellent and spirits were high with all our new friends.
My office was flooded with calls and visits for several days. What was going on?
The next Sunday a hundred more showed up. Where were all these people coming from? The majority promised to return.
We were celebrating the Lordís Supper that morning and ran out of communion ware. We put cups in cardboard boxes and used them for serving trays. We ran out of bulletins, visitorsí cards, and it took twice as long to take the offering.
As Wednesday night was our business meeting, I took time to encourage our current members. "The dynamics of our church have forever changed. No longer will we be this size. I want you to know how much I appreciate you taking a young pastor and his family under your watch thirteen years ago. You cared for us, loved us and provided an opportunity for ministry. We are forever grateful. Now, this body must find a way to meet the needs of so many others."
My Sunday School class now had more in attendance then the entire previous membership. Three weeks later, over thirty nervous souls walked down the aisle to join with us, some by letter, some by baptism, and others by profession of faith. The following week brought twenty more. Was it revival? So far, I felt God was just clearing His throat.
It used to be that I would have an occasional visitor come to the office during the week. Now people were having to stand in line virtually every morning. Little children needed to be patted on their heads, and adults looked around, having never seen the inside of a pastorís study.
Opening an email one morning, I found this note:
"Dear Pastor, I never had a pastor like you. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me last week. And thanks for helping me ask Jesus into my heart. This has taken me two hours to write. I donít type very fast."
It was signed by a nine-year-old boy.
Another family came very cautiously. They had been shunned by a previous church because everyone wasnít the same color. How would we treat them? Tears flowed in relief when they realized a home had been found with no racial barriers.
A man asked to sit down, nervously twisting his ball cap in weathered hands. His daughter was getting married in a couple of weeks and the church they had been attending refused to allow the wedding to take place there. No reason; apparently just retaliation for his Biblical stand. I assured him they could use ours and he thanked me through moistened eyes.
What did all these people have in common? A hurting soul and a desperate need to be loved and accepted for who they were. Not to be judged by their past--that was done at Calvary. Not to be spurned by a group of "believers"--Jesus invites everyone to come unto him (Matthew 11:28). They were looking for a place to worship God and serve Him to the best of their ability.
I received a call from the funeral home this week. A family is trying to cope with the death of a stillborn. The director hesitated, "They have no church affiliation and no money. We are handling the arrangements for free. Would you do the services at a reduced fee?"
A lump welled in my throat. "Yes, I will do the service and there is no fee. It is for the Lord."
It doesnít matter. Everybody is somebody to Him.
Dr. Pann and his wife, Cindy, reside in southern Michigan along with their children and two grandchildren. He is the author of "A Pregnant Woman Beat Me" and "Fished all Night For Nothing." He can be visited at http:www.drpann.com