Obedient Risk: Church’s Crazy Idea Goes Viral, Blesses Hundreds of Teachers
By Carl Stagner
The date was August 7, 2022, and for one Midwest congregation and hundreds of teachers across the state and far beyond, it is a day that will be hard to ever forget. The subject of the sermon that Sunday morning was prayer, but the message was no ordinary exposition of Scripture. Not only did Pastor Heather Semple tell stories of big prayers answered by a big God in unbelievable ways, but she also dared her Anderson, Indiana, congregation of the Church of God to take an enormous step of faith together. At the dawn of a new schoolyear, the congregation committed to fulfill the Amazon Wish Lists of any teacher anywhere who would opt in to the initiative by 5:00 that afternoon. In obedient risk, the church collected a spontaneous offering of three times the normal amount, as Madison Park’s seemingly crazy idea went viral and laid the groundwork to bless hundreds of teachers.
The congregation was at the edge of their seats prior to the announcement. After all, the plan was a bold one, implying obedient risk to the degree most had not previously experienced. Pastor Heather seamlessly transitioned from the topic of prayer to putting faith in action. “I’m praying for our community’s schools,” she explained. “I was a teacher…. You know there are hundreds of vacancies in our county—not tens, [but] hundreds. Teachers having to double up on the number of kids in their classroom. Empty classrooms through the hallway. Teachers having to source and fill their classroom with the supplies they need on their own dime….”
Asking the teachers in the sanctuary to stand, and turning to them, she said, “You’ve got to pay to fill your own classroom with the things you need. You’re not getting paid enough…. You spend more time on administrative details than on prep for your lessons…. You have colleagues you taught with who have not returned and, of course, with all the school shootings, COVID, [etc.], who chooses to go into this line of work? Well, you do. And you are heroes.”
Mike Makaluksy serves Madison Park Church as executive pastor. He can’t recall a time he’s ever witnessed such an act of faith. Considering that the final count tallied the Wish Lists of a whopping 585 teachers—most from the Anderson area, but also every region of Indiana and beyond—this would be no small task to accomplish. The expected cost of the project is an estimated $200,000.
“Goodness, this went viral in a way we could have never dreamed or planned!” Mike reflects. “Our giving was down 20 percent versus giving in 2021. This is a tough time for us financially, but we also know that the struggle the teachers have to face every day is enormous. The fact that they have to make lists for supplies and/or buy it out of their own pocket is an injustice to them and to the students they are trying to help to live full lives. When I think of the situation, I am reminded of Micah 6:8—“‘…What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’”
If you can imagine, the work necessary to fulfill the Wish Lists isn’t as simple as writing a few checks. The work is ongoing; still, as of mid-September, the church’s staff had diligently labored to complete at least 60 percent of the job. And they don’t plan to quit until the job is done.
“I don’t think that I will ever be able,” Pastor Mike reflects, “to fully articulate the emotion and spiritual revival that I have experienced through this process. August 7 will always live in my heart as one of the most amazing days of my life. It has changed me, and I believe that it has changed others. Obedient risk has a way of doing that.”
He adds, “The truth is a church lives in a position of faith every single week. We like to think that we can predict the amount an offering will be each week, each month, each year, but really, we have no control over it. We like to think that we have some control because that gives us a sense of being safe, but we don’t. Nothing about working in a church is safe. A church’s ability to carry out its mission is 100-percent dependent upon God stirring the hearts of people toward one focused collective effort to channel these resources to dramatically change a community so God can get the glory. Think about that. We don’t get to influence what revenue the church receives. We can’t generate more profit or increase sales; we must simply be obedient stewards of God’s resources and wait for his provision. Companies try to sell strategies to churches about developing plans to increase giving, but it still all comes down to their hearts and relationship to God. We don’t control it.”
“So,” Mike continues, “when a need presents itself, there is a natural temptation to mitigate the risk associated with meeting the need. That’s a normal human reaction, and it is not necessarily wrong. In fact, it is a good thing most times. But there are times when God calls us to step out in faith and risk for his greater good. There is a time when God calls us to take a step that, without his provision, could cost us personally. No one likes to take a risk that can cost you personally and that you have no control over the outcome. But there is a time when God asks us to examine what kind of faith we really have. Are we living by our own efforts? Do we need God to show up in any area of our life?”
The first step in obedient risk isn’t to analyze the costs, consider the consequences, or survey the size of the waves. The first step is to get out of the boat. That’s exactly what Madison Park Church did on Sunday, August 7.
“When you step out in this type of faith,” Mike concludes, “you will receive all kinds of responses. Some will be inspired by what is happening and others will object claiming that you are irresponsible. Regardless of how people respond, one thing is true of everyone who experiences a bold demonstration of faith. It challenges you to examine your own faith. It forces you to ask yourself, What am I willing to risk? How far is too far? Obedient risk—this is the bold faith that has the power to transform a person’s life. It’s scary but it is also the place where miracles live. It is the place of awe and wonder. It is the place where God gets to unleash his greatness.”
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.