...So, what are you going to do with us unchurched people - you church leaders who say you want us to join the fold? We're whip smart. We're used to controlling our own destinies. We have no denominational allegiances. We have no clue what a pastor is or does and we aren't about to take direction from you. We don't tear up when we heard the ads for World Vision. We can smell manipulation a mile away. We don't part easily with our money or our time. We have no patience with the church's attempt to inculcate us into a subculture that we view as ridiculous and irrelevant. We are used to being leaders in our communities and in our workplaces and it chafes us when we are barred from church leadership because we are deemed to be spiritually immature, or too edgy. When we misunderstand what church is, we don't want to be called shallow or self-indulgent. We reserve the right to have tantrums now and then. We know that you're human too and we expect you to act that way, not like some holier-than-thou icon who never gets confused or has doubts.There's a level of honesty in these words that we within the Church need to hear.
But don't be confused about this. We want to know Jesus. We want to love God and our neighbor. We understand that the church is part of that and we understand that you, our church leaders, want us there. You just don't know what to do with us. We don't integrate easily. Most of all, we want to be truly loved exactly as we are without any expectation that we will ever change.
If we like it or not, I think those in the Church need to face the reality that there are some of the unchurched who have had nothing but negative experiences of Christianity, and consider it just another scam; we want them to join because we want their money.
I realize that the stated reason for evangelism within the Church is to fulfill the Great Commission. But that's not how it always translates in the secular sphere. Actually, that's not how it is sometimes articulated in Vestry meetings, either. Got a deficit budget? Get more members. Not enough volunteers? Get more members.
William Temple once said something like this; "The Church is the only organization that exists to serve those who are not yet members." The Church is not primarily about maintaining the physical plant and serving those who are already a part of the organization. The Church is about mission. The members are equipped for ministry, not for their own sakes, but for the sake of the world.
How do we engage in this mission? We feed the hungry, we clothe the naked, we house the homeless and we visit those who are sick or in prison. We are the compassionate hands of Christ in the world today. We offer concrete expressions of love to those who the world have defined as unlovable.
August 10 was the feast day of Laurence, Deacon and Martyr, who died in 258. A story is told about Laurence drawn from a time of great persecution of the early church by the Romans. The Roman prefect, knowing that Laurence was the principal financial officer of the local church, promised to set him free if he would surrender the treasures of the Church. Laurence returned in three days, surrounded by a crowd made up of the sick, the aged, and the poor, the widows and orphans of the congregation, and presented them to the prefect, saying, "These are the treasures of the Church." The Church is not about our shrines, or our vestments, or our gold vessels; it's about loving those who the world deems unlovable. "Where your heart is, there will your treasure be also."
The fringe benefit, the icing on the cake, is that the cynics who think the Church is just another scam then sit up and take notice. Why is this organization expending so much money and time on those who will most likely never be able to repay them? Why are they making such a foolish investment of their resources? Look at how they love one another. Could they be for real? And, then, just maybe, some of them will check out the Church a bit more. By our fruits we are known.
Some Greeks came to Philip and said, "Sir, we want to see Jesus." This is our mission; to re-present Jesus to the world; to be a sacramental presence of the risen Christ moving and acting in the world today. Jesus Christ is the sacrament (the outward and visible sign) of God. The Church is the sacrament of Jesus Christ. We, the members of the Church, are intended to be living sacraments; allowing our every word and every deed to be a conduit of the healing power of God's love.
Yes, we need to nurture the Body, to equip the saints for ministry. But this nurturing is not just so our members can feel good, or have a "spiritual experience," or even gain enlightenment. It is to prepare us for mission. A gift received is of little value unless it is given away; we are conduits, channels of grace, not storehouses!
I'm afraid I'm beginning to ramble here. Thanks, Karen, for rekindling a spark within me with your challenging words.