The Church

I wrote this as a follow on to the discussion I began on religion.  Mainly, it is a discussion of what I believe is missing in “the church”.

One thing I believe the church lacks, ironically, is an understanding of the people they are trying to reach. 

The building stands, and families attend.  The children grow and make more children.  Aunts, uncles, cousins and friends are invited, and eventually you find you are preaching to the choir.  Families, in their entirety attend.  People become “deacons” and “pillars” in the church.  Everyone knows everyone.  You are one big, happy, Lord-praising family.

When the beer drinking, leather jacket wearing, tattoos and earrings guy comes in to see what’s going on…. it’s kinda like some stranger walking in to your family reunion. 

He is not welcomed with genuine smiles and warm handshakes…he is viewed with suspicion, and in some (many) cases hostility.  He is an intruder, and he must immediately cut his hair, shave, change his clothes, accept Jesus, join the choir and show up next Sunday looking EXACTLY like everyone else…or he will be ostracized (except by the teenage girls in the youth group…who secretly think he is so very cool!) 

And because you have no frame of reference, you cannot speak to this individual in any language he understands. 

You are talking to him about some guy who died for his sins 2000 years ago…he wants to know where his next meal is coming from. He wants to know whether his junkie girlfriend can get in to a rehab program after she gets out of jail for solicitation and possession.  He wants to know how he’s supposed to pay his bills when he just lost his job.  He wants to know how to control the urge to kill his father who has been abusing his mother all of his life.  He wants to know what to do about the fact that his daughter has diabetes and he has no health insurance. 

“The Church” has become a building, not a group of people.  And it is, in many cases, a building full of smug, arrogant, elitists.  No longer interested in reaching the lost or transforming the nation.  They are content to sit in their pews (and make no mistake, many of them have “their” pew) and attempt to block out the rest of the world.

I am reminded of a time when a pastor of mine (and this was one I actually respected) gave a sermon called Living la Buena Vida.  He started by mentioning the song Living la Vida Loca by Ricky Martin.  The man in the pew in front of me looked at his wife and quietly, and accusingly asked her, “How does he know about that?” 

The temerity!  The pastor had listened to the radio!  He had partaken of “the world”.

And these people wonder why no one is “winning anyone to Christ”.

Let me ask you this question brother Pharisee…  how exactly can you lead me from where I am to where you are, if you have no idea where I am?

If the church wishes to be successful, you need a whole lot less saints and a whole lot more former sinners.  You cannot “stop by” the homeless shelter or the soup line.  You cannot “counsel” the abused, the addicted, the imprisoned.  These people must know and respect you.  They must believe you understand.  They need a friend, not a preacher.

You need not have been a drug addict to reach a drug addict…but it would help if you had some kind of idea what a “hard life” was like.  Your three piece suit and shiny new shoes give you away.  And you may catch up in your net those who wish to achieve the material success you have achieved, but you will rarely reach their spirit.

I am reminded of a friend of mine who is a bleeding heart liberal democrat.  He believes we must do all that we can to help our fellow man.  Obliterate the budget, raise taxes, explode the debt.  Whatever must be done to feed the homeless, help the unemployed, and elevate those less fortunate.  He had two daughters at home.  One went off to college.  I asked him when he planned on moving a homeless man in to her room.  He never answered that question…

Because it is always easier to feel things, and then wait for other people to do something about them.  It is easy to drop a $20 in the kettle at Christmas time, or volunteer at the homeless shelter (twice) in July.  It is a far different thing to move a homeless man in to your house…or be the guy standing out there with the kettle, hour after hour…in November…in Chicago.

Should God exist, and should Jesus be his Son, and should every story be the absolute truth…I can tell you this for certain.  God doesn’t much like talkers.  it’s doers he is looking for.  And when he says that there will be people who say, “Lord, Lord…” and he will say, “I never knew you, depart from me you workers of iniquity”, I can assure you there are people on the front pew of churches all over this nation who will be hearing those words.

And there will be some who, as the Bible describes, slip through the gate with the smell of smoke upon their garments.  Some of them are also sitting in pews…many are not.

Let me offer you this advice Pastor.  Go grab sister so-and-so, you know the one I mean.  The sourpuss.  The person voted most likely to use the expression “well I never”.  The one who comes in to your office to offer you the “word” the Lord gave her concerning last week’s sermon.  And drag her wrinkled old ass down to some place where people are hurting, and suffering, and in need of a savior of some kind…and tell her to get to work practicing what she preaches. 

Show her a picture of Mother Theresa ministering to the poor.  Living among them, ministering to them, and quietly altering the lives of thousands and thousands of people.  Show her a picture of Billy Graham, traveling the world, preaching the gospel, and living a life beyond reproach.

And then tell her that God has a word for her…but he didn’t give it to you, he gave it to Janet Jackson.

“What have you done for me lately”

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