James MacDonald, founder and pastor of the seven-campus mega church Harvest Bible Chapel, decided to experiment a bit and see how his congregants would treat a person who appeared to be poor and homeless. To perform this experiment, MacDonald himself dressed up as a bearded homeless man and situated himself outside two of the Harvest Bible Chapel campuses prior to Sunday services. He observed the way churchgoers reacted to him and documented the whole process via video.
MacDonald posted his video to his Facebook page the following Monday. It begins with him, disguised, sitting in front of one of the church buildings holding a sign, a cup for change, and near a shopping cart. Congregants begin arriving for worship and silently walk past the man, without speaking one word. Eventually, one person seems to contemplate approaching the “homeless man” but decides against it and enters the church.
“The closer a person is to us and the less common the struggle, the easier it is to love,” the pastor said. “God forbid I find out my wife has three months to live. I would quit my job and quit everything, right? What if it’s just an acquaintance of yours and what if the problem is recurring…How common is homelessness? How frequently is the homeless person someone dear to us personally? Never.”
The video continues with MacDonald dressed once again in homeless attire walking through the middle of the sanctuary, pushing his cart all the while, until finally reaching the stage. He then climbs up and then removes his disguise layer by layer, slowly revealing his true identity to his church. He did this a few weeks after his initial experiment.
“So I took a few moments a couple of weeks ago and camped outside of a couple of our campuses and I wanted to see how we were doing when it is hardest to love,” he explained to his shocked congregation. “Do you know that your father in heaven is giving the same graces to the person who is the hardest for you to love? He is giving it. He doesn’t play favorites. He is giving the grace to everyone. If we are going to love like our father in heaven loves, we don’t get to play favorites. By favorites I mean, so often we love the people when there is some benefit in it for us…It’s hardest to love when the problem is most common and the people are least known.”
After the first few moments of the video, which showed congregants ignoring MacDonald, many stepped up. MacDonald said, “So, how did our church do in the video? I am going to tell you now—awesome. There were a number of people who prayed with me and brought me food. I dressed up as a homeless man and sat outside our church. What I witnessed blew me away.”
The clips MacDonald references show many people inviting the man into church, offering him food, water, coffee, even money. The actions of his congregation blew MacDonald away. All believers should remember this experiment when going about their daily lives. How would Jesus treat the homeless person on the sidewalk? Whatever that looks like should be emulated by all who call themselves Christ followers.
~ 1776 Christian