The Most Ordinary Thing a Church Can Do

Jul 07, 2017

I don’t remember my first time attending The Summit Church, but I’m sure a lot of other people do. I had become a Christian just two weeks before, and church was not a familiar place. Back then, in 2002, I was an awkward college freshman sporting shoulder-length hair and an arsenal of Hawaiian shirts. There were only about five people at the Summit who were younger than 30, and all of them were related to someone else in the church. To put it mildly, I stuck out.

I may not remember everything about my first visit to the Summit, but I vividly remember why I came back. I had come the first time for the same reason most college kids do: I didn’t have a car, and someone was driving there. The building was less than impressive (though the faded pink carpets were … distinct). The service itself was fine but wouldn’t have won any awards. On the whole, I thought that the Summit was a rather ordinary church.

And then, on my way out, one of the older ladies stopped me to say, “You’re the bomb, man!”

That small interaction had an enormous impact on me. Here was a woman with very little in common with me, who didn’t know what to say to connect. But instead of shying away, she decided to say something rather than nothing. She may not have gotten the jargon right, but the message was clear: She was happy I was there. She was why I came back.

Throughout my college years and after, the Summit became my church, and I kept coming back because the people of the Summit walked with me through my newfound faith. None of the major milestones in this journey were unique, but they were, nevertheless, miraculous.

There was the time our brand new college pastor came to visit me on my campus, asking how he could help the small number of Christians at Duke reach our non-Christian friends. I learned that this church cared about reaching the lost.

There was the time one of the older men asked how he could pray for me—then followed that up by emailing me to let me know he had been praying for me every day for two weeks. I learned that many people in this church truly believed in the power of prayer.

There was the time Pastor J.D. invited me and a group of other young men to study the Bible together at the God-forsaken hour of 6 a.m. on Fridays. I learned a little bit of theology, but more than that, I learned how vital the Word of God was.

And there was the time my girlfriend and I broke up, when one of the pastors patiently listened to me as I lamented as only a heartbroken teenager could do. I learned what it means for the body of Christ to “bear one another’s burdens,” even when those burdens are the result of immaturity.

What I love about each of these moments is how patently mundane they are. Make no mistake: The Summit has transformed my life. But it did not transform me because of a polished weekend production, a flawless sermon series, or a mystical experience. The Summit transformed my life because its people loved each other. That love was—and is—miraculously magnetic. Or, as Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 ESV). It’s the most ordinary and extraordinary thing any church can do.

I love the Summit, not because it has done what only the Summit can do, but because it has done the mundane and ordinary miracles that every church can do. This church opened its doors to me when I was a stranger. This church showed me what it meant to love God, love others, and love our world. This church sent my wife and me to the other side of the world on mission. And this church welcomed us back, encouraging us to keep seeing ourselves as God’s missionaries here in the U.S.

What we see today—with thousands of people gathering every weekend, hundreds of families being sent all over the world, and countless lives being eternally transformed—isn’t the result of a carefully concocted strategy. It’s not the property of a few hyper-anointed people at our church. It’s simply the fruit of a promise Jesus made 2,000 years ago: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21b). It’s ordinary people, like you and me, loving one another and listening for the Spirit’s guidance.

And it’s still the most miraculous thing I’ve ever experienced.

by Chris Pappalardo