Discipling Christians to love each other like Jesus does—wholly, without holding anything back—is hard.
It's a challenge for most pastors to find a way to inspire church members to develop a heart for those outside their communities. As followers of Jesus, it's difficult for many of us to think about giving away our time or attention to strangers when we've already packed our days full with our own families and our church community. There is often little room for the Spirit to move us in quiet ways. To prompt us into actions that move us away from the familiar and the comfortable. To venture out into the thick of the struggles all around us—to love others, tangibly, like Jesus.
But what if there were a way to bring Scripture to life for the people in your church? A practical way to "hit the pause button" each night for a week, sharing experiences at home that help them catch a glimpse of the pains of hunger, the discomfort of dirty clothes, and the many needs of the world? To get everyone, from kids to young adults to seniors, excited to dive in and share God's love with others by putting their faith into action?
It's all right there in Matthew 25—the key to loving others like Jesus. It's feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, caring for the sick, the stranger and the imprisoned.
And whatever we do for "the least of these brothers and sisters of mine," Jesus tells us, we do for Him. Often, that takes developing empathy first.
"We think we know what suffering is," says Jim Duran, lead pastor of The River Community Church in Ventura, California. "We think we know what going without is. And I don't think we had a clue."
When Jim first heard about Matthew 25 Challenge from a World Vision representative, he was hesitant. Like most pastors, he was busy. His church was already involved in the community and had several ministries going on. But a video revealing the plight of children in extreme poverty around the world struck a chord with Jim. He thought about the needs of the community that his church wasn't addressing. And he thought about the people in his congregation who weren't serving yet in any capacity. That's when he decided that bringing World Vision's Matthew 25 Challenge could be an incredible opportunity to activate his church.
"This would be something that we could actually do together," Jim remembers thinking. "The whole church could actually do this. And so, I was inspired."
The Matthew 25 Challenge introduces congregations to practical ways to gain new perspective together, as families. Simple daily challenges encourage people to step into the shoes of our vulnerable brothers and sisters around the world—a taste of what it's like for people who are hungry, thirsty, and in need.
Jim found easy tasks like sleeping on the floor to be more eye-opening than he'd anticipated: "My wife went, 'OK, I'm going to take the couch and you can lay out, but I'll be here with you.' So I realized we're not as tough as we think we are. We don't really understand what these people go through on a daily basis."
The Matthew 25 Challenge not only creates an opportunity for good conversation about the stuff that matters, it sparks change. It strengthens and connects families. It engages them outside of Sunday mornings. And it creates a culture of generosity in the church.
This weeklong discipleship experience is easily accessible to everyone in your church. Each day, text messages sent right to your phone deliver the daily challenges. But even more, they share compelling stories that engage and bring to light the reality many families around the world face.
The week's challenges include:
- Monday — skip lunch
- Tuesday — drink only water
- Wednesday — sleep on the floor
- Thursday — wear the same clothes you wore the day before
- Friday — reach out to someone
"I'd recommend this to any pastor to bring their church in, to get them all involved and excited about doing this challenge," Jim says. "It brings unity to the church."
Jim was moved as he watched his church family transform. People became intentional about reading the Bible as a family, giving financially, praying together for their community, and stepping out in ministry. The shared experiences inspired them to feel sincere empathy and love—not only for neighbors, but for strangers, too—and even more, it moved them to respond.
The moment with the most impact: when his church gathered on Saturday morning at the end of the week to pray together.
"Because of the Matthew 25 Challenge—because of the involvement of everybody in the church, we had 10 times as many people on that prayer walk than we ever had at the Saturday morning prayer meeting," Jim says. "And we walked our city, we prayed over our city. We ended up in front of city hall praying over the city officials, asking for wisdom ... It was actually so impacting that our team looked at me and said, 'We have to do this again.'"
This unique experience can help you disciple your congregation and open their eyes to the importance of acting out their faith. It can help them understand that when they care for others and meet their needs, they're not only showing compassion and love to God's children, they're also serving Jesus.
What if something as simple as sleeping on the floor could bring about transformation in your church, and transformation for our brothers and sisters around the world? Are you willing to see? Sign up for the Matthew 25 Challenge and disciple your church in a fresh, engaging way that compels hearts to act. Because we can all afford to love more like Jesus.