By Neil Schori
About 18 months ago, I became the Lead Pastor of Naperville Christian Church. God took a former partying, fraternity guy who was getting ready to go to law school and He radically changed my heart. Twelve years later, it still amazes me how God chooses whom he chooses.
Prior to becoming a lead pastor, I served as a counseling pastor at a vibrant congregation in Bolingbrook, IL for about 3 years. I was very comfortable in the position, and I’ve learned that being comfortable is usually when God changes the equation a bit, at least in my life.
I have never been in a more thrilling position in ministry! Naperville Christian Church is a congregation that has been around for more than 40 years, and was somewhat traditional in its style of worship when I arrived. The church is known for being loving to newcomers, but had gone through a tough time in the previous few years. This combination of circumstances propelled the church toward what God was planning to do.
On March 21st of 2008, we decided to NOT celebrate Good Friday at our church. This was a huge step for some people in the congregation. But God was leading us to celebrate in a new way. We decided that there were a lot of people in the suburbs that didn’t have as much as we did, and we wanted to be a blessing to those people. I invited the congregation to go celebrate Good Friday with me in a park in East Aurora where the economy is bad, and gang activity is worse. There are also many homeless people in the vicinity and there is certainly a “hope deficit.”
The plan was for all of us to go to this park together and to throw a pizza party for whom Jesus calls “the least of these.” Well, the morning of the event brought a ton of doubt because a huge winter storm hit the suburbs and snow and freezing rain was everywhere. Many people wanted to back out because of the weather, but I knew that God wanted us to be at that park.
We went anyway. And we brought 50 pizzas to this park and set them on the benches and waited while we were pelted by sleet. Well God did something amazing. Within ninety minutes, and in the worst weather we’d had in a long time, God did some amazing things. We gave away a ton of pizza and we met a neighborhood and our cultures collided. And we’ll surely never be the same. We knew that God was up to something big.
Our hearts were wrecked for the ordinary as we met single moms that welfare had forgotten and children with no coats and men with no jobs and no way to feed their families. We knew that this was no one-time event. For nearly the rest of 2008, we went back to this park every other week for the rest of the year and have forged amazing relationships with some beautiful people.
We just planned our calendar for 2009, and this park in East Aurora is high on our list. Many people in our church will be connecting with this park this year and I believe for many years to come. Here’s the deal: when you get excited for God’s purposes, your hearts will be changed. March 21st, 2008 marked the day that many of our hearts were resurrected, and it is just the beginning of what God is doing at our church in Naperville.
Never again will we be satisfied to do church as usual.
______________________________________________________________________________________________ Neil Schori serves as lead pastor of Naperville Christian Church. Neil has a Master of Arts in counseling from Lincoln Christian Seminary. Over the past 10 years, Neil has served full-time in several pastoral roles ranging from family care and counseling to community groups and assimilation. Neil lives in the Chicago suburbs with wife, Brandi, and three daughters, Hannah, Mia & Ava. You can learn more about Neil on his blog.