Hundreds of Brook Hills members sacrifice big for sake of Kingdomcomment (0)
May 20, 2010
By Grace Thornton
Your church only thought it squirmed when your pastor preached on tithing.
It’s Sunday morning, and your pastor opens the Word and begins preaching from Numbers 13–14, encouraging the congregation to faithfulness, not fearfulness, when it comes to following God’s leadership to take the land.
Then he gets specific.
He mentions a community roughly 15 miles away, a part of town you don’t really want your wife or daughter driving through in the daytime, much less at night.
And then he asks you to pray about taking your family and moving there.
What would you do?
When David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills, Birmingham, posed that question to his congregation March 7, you could’ve heard a pin drop in the room.
But that just made it all the better for Chuck and Margaret Clarke — and roughly 40 other families and singles — to hear the call just that much more clearly.
Forty households. All looking toward putting “For Sale” signs in the yard and surfing real estate ads in neighborhoods nothing like their own.
“People might be surprised at that response to a sermon, but it wasn’t an isolated message,” Chuck Clarke said. “For three years, David has been preaching what it means to be a follower of Christ, so now when the opportunities come, people are ready to take them.”
And God makes it happen once you do, he explained. The Clarkes got a cash offer on their condo nearly immediately after surrendering to the idea of uprooting. They quickly found themselves prepping with their three children for a move to inner-city Birmingham.
And it wasn’t long after moving that they found themselves already a mainstay in the neighborhood.
In the afternoons, Anna Katherine Clarke, 13, invites groups of neighborhood kids up onto the sprawling porch of the Clarkes’ new home, and her mother offers them a spread of drinks.
“You want to just go in and get yourself a snack while you wait on your parents to get home?” Margaret Clarke asks two little girls.
Another crawls into her lap and starts munching on a pretzel stick — she’s already made herself at home.
“We just wanted to be a place of refuge in the neighborhood, and [the house] is already fulfilling what we wanted,” Margaret Clarke said. “We want people to come and feel loved and welcome and safe.”
Do the Clarkes themselves feel safe?
“We heard gunshots yesterday morning, two houses down. That’s all around us,” she said. “But God has woven such a beautiful tapestry of His grace in leading us here that we know if anything happens to us, it’s going to be OK.”
They are the first to move there from Brook Hills, but others will be joining them soon, including Ben DeLoach, the church’s associate local disciple-making minister, and his family.
Though the influx is significant, it’s not going in loud and proud under the Brook Hills banner — it’s just a few families moving in to live life and show Christ to the neighbors. They will be joining some people from other churches who are already doing the same thing.
“People ask, ‘What are you going to do there?’” DeLoach said. “I tell them we are going to love God and love people.”
The inner-city move is one more outgrowth of a challenge to take Christ’s commands literally that Platt has been preaching since at least fall of 2008. He preached the Radical series in November of that year, messages aimed at taking a long, honest look at what Christ really said about being His disciple.
Referencing the story of the rich young ruler, as well as the call of the 12 disciples, Platt notes that Jesus called His followers to abandon everything for the sake of His glory in the world.
“What if I were the potential disciple being told to drop my nets? What if you were the man whom Jesus told to not even say goodbye to his family? What if we were told to hate our families and give up everything we had in order to follow Jesus?” Platt asked. “This is where we come face to face with a dangerous reality. We do have to give up everything we have to follow Jesus. We do have to love Him in a way that makes our closest relationships look like hate. And it is entirely possible that He will tell us to sell everything we have and sell it to the poor.”
In fall of 2009, the church began work on a drastically different budget for 2010 — hundreds of thousands less spent on the church itself, and hundreds of thousands more sent to help further the gospel and fight poverty locally and around the world.
And at the end of 2009, Brook Hills voted to send more than $500,000 in tucked-away surplus money to fund 21 of Compassion International’s Child Survival Programs in India.
Continuing to fund them became one component of this year’s Radical Experiment that the congregation committed to in January — an emphasis Platt calls “one year to a life turned upside down”:
1. To pray for the entire world (using resources such as “Operation World,” a book and website that lists a different people group to pray for each day of the year)
2. To read through the entire Word (together as a church)
3. To commit our lives to multiplying community (through small groups)
4. To sacrifice our money for a specific purpose (to meet needs locally and globally, specifically in India)
5. To give our time in another context (by going on missions trips)
“Ultimately Jesus is a reward worth risking everything to know, experience and enjoy. But claims such as these remain theories until they are tested. That is the reason for the experiment,” Platt wrote in his new book, “Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream,” which came out earlier this month.
Brook Hills members would be quick to tell you — it’s an experiment that’s changing their lives.
One went home after the sermon on the rich young ruler, emptied all his clothes on the bed, collected bags of food and other items and drove into the projects and gave it all away.
Nearly 100 families completed training and are being certified to take care of foster children after a sermon based on James 1:27 last fall that challenged the congregation to not let a single child in Shelby County go without a home for the night.
Still more families are signed up to go through the training soon.
And dozens like the Clarkes are selling their homes and possessions and moving overseas or into other ministry contexts, such as inner-city Birmingham.
“How do you deal with the hard sayings of Christ?” Chuck Clarke asked. “We decided it was time to act, and our joy in Christ has only been maximized through it. So it’s to our benefit, too.”