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Church’s ‘Big Serve’ empties the pews

NORFOLK, Va. (BP)–For members of First Baptist Church in Norfolk, the Sunday service wasn’t held in pews but throughout the multi-city area known Hampton Roads.

This type of service — called the “Big Serve” — was about serving others, as more than 1,000 First Baptist members teamed with one another to visit the needy, the elderly, the disabled and just the average park-goer across Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, offering a token of their hearts — be it a hamburger or bottled water — and a warm smile.

“God has done some amazing things in us today,” Eric Thomas, First Baptist’s senior pastor, said at a special evening service after the Sunday outreach on July 12. Relating the day’s efforts to Jesus sending out His chosen 72, Thomas said to the congregation, akin to Luke 10:20: “… we should not boast about what we have done in His name but simply that He has written our names in heaven.”

Thomas and his staff came up with a vision for Big Serve and saw it to fruition last summer on Labor Day weekend, with Thomas preaching a type of “napkin strategy” in which church members follow through on the mission of the church: to love God, love others and live the mission.

The napkin strategy is an everyday thing, Thomas says, whereby people love extravagantly in their neighborhoods, in the grocery stores where they shop and in everyday life in general. The strategy encourages members to take an extra minute — or several — to talk to someone, to intentionally make connections with a co-worker, invite a neighbor over for dinner as well as serve the “least of these” through a number of the church’s ministries.

Projects on the day of Big Serve included delivering cookies to firefighters, a barbecue in the park for the homeless, a special fellowship and car wash with a local Chinese church, and delivery of treats to a nursing home, among a total of 40 initiatives.

“It has been exciting once again see God move mightily through His body, the church,” said Craig Clayton, First Baptist’s minister of missions. “Not a building, but a people being ‘propelled’ into the community to ‘prosper’ the city. How beautiful is the body of Christ when we love God, love others and live the mission.”

Participants had much the same feeling as they completed their projects and returned to the church that evening for fellowship.

“Serving like this is important. It’s following the example that Jesus Christ left us,” said Jay Coulter, 21, one of the coordinators of the homeless picnic who visits the shelter each Sunday with breakfast snacks as part of First Baptist’s Hope for the Hungry ministry. The picnic “turned out to be a great event. I think people felt like they were doing something that had eternal value,” Coulter said. “I think the guests [the homeless] were treated to a time of rest and encouragement and left with Christ deeper in their hearts.”

Calling attention to some of the works that were part of Big Serve, particularly one mentally challenged member preaching at the local mission, Thomas concluded the evening service by noting the verse at the end of the passage recounting the sending out of the 72 (Luke 10:23): “Blessed are the eyes, indeed, that have seen what you have seen.”
Adam R. Cole is a naval officer and member of First Baptist Church of Norfolk. He is the founder of Join the Journey (www.jointhejourney.cc), a media enterprise spotlighting the hurts of the world and the efforts of those called by God to intercede for those hurts. Cole can be reached at [email protected].

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  • Adam Cole