On the fourth Saturday in October, you’ll see volunteers cleaning up a park in Memphis, then setting up a harvest festival there.
You’ll see new Christians being baptized in the county jail.
You’ll see church members painting the building of another church in their neighborhood, visiting residents in nearby nursing homes, leading a reading camp at a neighborhood school and serving meals in under-resourced areas of the city.
And hopefully, Ben Taylor said, you’ll see the love of Christ in action as churches across the city join together to spend the day in service during a yearly event called Jesus Loves Memphis.
“It’s an awesome thing that’s really lifting up the church as a whole, not just one church,” he said.
The event started about eight years ago with a ministry called Bellevue Loves Memphis that encouraged the members of Bellevue Baptist Church, where Taylor is local missions pastor, to get outside the four walls of their church and into the community – to not just talk about the love of Christ, but to show it.
The church, established in 1903, has about 12,000 members, he said, and more than 7,000 attend services each Sunday at one of its four locations in and around Memphis. Between 800 and 1,000 would turn out for Bellevue Loves Memphis to complete as many as 30 projects in the community on a Saturday.
That was powerful, he said, but it didn’t take long for Bellevue to realize “the opportunities that face Memphis are bigger than more than just one church.”
Luckily, Taylor said, there’s basically a church on every street corner in the city – more than 3,000 evangelical churches alone in the city.
“We may not be able to plant a church together, but we can surely come together and serve the city in the name of Christ,” he said.
A picture of Christ
And so five or six years ago, the local missions pastor started sending out letters and making contact with those churches and their pastors. Now about 50 churches and organizations plan service projects each year for Jesus Loves Memphis; last year, he said, 45 churches came together on 43 different projects. It even spread north of the city, inspiring an event called Jesus Loves Tipton County.
In all, nearly 2,000 volunteers from churches all over the city came together to put hands and feet to Christ’s love, he said.
Prayer and evangelization also are part of each project, he said, whether that’s a prayer walk through each community or circling up to pray in the parking lot of a church.
“It’s amazing to see how the body of Christ is coming together in those communities to serve their communities – not for them, but for Christ,” Taylor said.
That shows participating church members there’s so much more going on in the city than just what’s going on in their churches, he said. It shows the city it’s not just about any one church, it’s about Jesus. And it shows those who may not know Christ what He looks like.
“He’s longing for the church to be an accurate representation of Himself,” Taylor said. “So many times the world gets a poor picture of Christ because we as a body are not representing the head.”