“The first church a neighbor visits is your driveway. You don’t get to be a good church and a bad neighbor." Jon Acuff
A highlight for me while growing up was trick-or-treating. On one occasion it opened doors into the home of an older couple who became great friends. Like all children, I loved dressing up and I loved candy!
One Halloween we decided to see if we could make a bigger haul, so we went on the other side of a major road across from our subdivision to do some trick-or-treating. Somehow we convinced each other to go up a long driveway with a gated entry and trick-or-treat. We did know it but the Jamesons lived there. Looking back, apparently they were retired and lived on a large property of several acres. The reason that their driveway was gated was that they had two beautiful English Setters.
Apparently, no other trick-or-treaters ever ventured up there. They loaded us up with goodies and I had my very first caramel apple. They even took us on a wagon ride (another first). All because one of us had the courage to suggest trick-or-treating at their home. Later, as a boy, I’d often wander up to their home and play with their dogs or they’d load me up with pecans from their pecan trees. Fifty years later I can still remember how kind they were to all of us…all because they opened their gates and doors to a bunch of kids out trick-or-treating.
All year long at Grace we ask our neighbors to come and visit our church. But on one night of the year, Halloween, our neighbors are pouring into our church. Since we started our Halloween outreach some years ago, we’ve had many of them share that they never knew that there was even a church here. This year we’re inviting them to join us as we move up the road to our new building. We easily have some 300 neighbors come through. Over and over again they thank us again and again for being thoughtful, serving hot dogs, popcorn and candy. If the weather is chilly or rainy, they’ll thank us for opening up our warm building. Many will thank us for having a bathroom available for a small child with an emergency.
For several years, Janell Alvarez, has faithfully headed this up and done a fantastic job. This year though Janell is assisting Ryan Mueller, Jr. Ryan believes God is leading him into the ministry. We’re a family and this is a safe place to get some experience at leading in ministry, so Janell and Ryan’s father, Ryan Sr., will be assisting him as he heads up this outreach.
We can always use more help! We need folk to pass out candy, hot dogs and popcorn. We need people to greet our neighbors! There is plenty for everyone to do. Let’s use this tradition of children collecting candy as an opportunity to serve our community and to show-case our church, and invite them to our new building that will be opening soon.
If you’re going to stay home, let me encourage you to pass out candy to the little neighbors who’ll be ringing your doorbell. Ooh and aaah over how cute the children are. Greet the parents and commend them for spending an evening out with their children. It’s estimated that between 80 and 90 percent of children trick-or-treat each year, giving us the opportunity to build gospel bridges from the comfort of our own doorstep. The world might celebrate this night with ghosts and witches. We know the One who has true power over both this world and the next.
Let’s be honest though. For some believers Halloween is a difficult holiday. They just don’t feel comfortable participating in it, and that’s fine. Too often in the Church we make grey issues black and white. In our culture of choosing sides, we’ve jettisoned an important doctrine called “Soul Liberty.” We’ve made those who participate or who don’t believe that they should participate feel guilty. Some believers feel that Halloween is a pagan holiday that Christians should avoid all costs.
Where the Bible is clear, we need to be clear, but there are many areas of life and behavior that are not clearly addressed by Scripture. It’s in those areas that we need to live according to our own understanding of God’s Word and our conscience. Each of us is responsible before God to study His Word. We have the liberty to choose in areas where Scripture does not speak expressly about what we are to believe and how we are to behave. No one should be pressured to violate their conscience.
Through the ages Christians have struggled with these things. They are not a question of spirituality but personal liberty. We’re all tempted to give in to pride and judge others…judge them on their liberty or lack of it. Too many Christians are ignorant of Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 9. Twice the Bible unpacks for us that we are not to judge each other on non-essential matters where the Bible does not give specific commands. There are many areas the Bible doesn’t address or where it allows liberty of conscience. In these matters, Scripture repeatedly says we’re not to judge or regard one another with contempt (Romans 14:1-10). Rather, we’re to always love one another and accept one another, just as Jesus Christ has accepted us.
Wonderfully, God doesn’t want “cookie cutter” Christians. A local church is a body made up of various parts. So if you can help us reach out on Halloween, please join us. If you want to build bridges to your neighbors, go for it. If you’re not comfortable with participating in Halloween activities and it violates your conscience, then please pray that our efforts will be effective for the Kingdom! All of us though have a responsibility to reach out to those around us with the Gospel, 24/7, 365 days a year. We’re missionaries. So what are you doing to reach your part of the mission field?
Can we help you spiritually? Can we help you know Jesus better? Please check out more resources on our church's web page, Gracechurchwi.org. Or, call us at 262.763.3021. If you'd like to know more about how Jesus can change your life, I'd love to mail you a copy of how Jesus changed my life in "My Story." E-mail me at Carson@gracechurchwi.org to request a free copy. Please include your mailing address.