"There is nothing like the local church when it's working right. Its beauty is indescribable. Its power is breathtaking. Its potential is unlimited. It comforts the grieving and heals the broken in the context of community. It builds bridges to seekers and offers truth to the confused. It provides resources for those in need and opens its arms to the forgotten, the downtrodden, the disillusioned. It breaks the chains of addictions, frees the oppressed, and offers belonging to the marginalized of this world. Whatever the capacity for human suffering, the church has a greater capacity for healing and wholeness... The potential of the local church is almost more than I can grasp. No other organization on earth is like the church. Nothing even comes close." ---Bill Hybels
Before you read on, go and listen to this. Preferably the entire thing (it's worth your time, I promise), but if you don't have 40 minutes right now, then at least listen to the first 3 minutes. Then come back to this post.
Finished? Now then... A couple of weeks ago, I was at a meeting wherein a group of people (all from the same church) were discussing the book Breaking the Missional Code. The person who had been assigned leadership of discussion for the evening tentatively suggested Ways That Our Church Could Change as a topic to be covered. The cozy living room chilled; the fellowship-filled atmosphere stiffened. Change? The conclusion that the group swiftly came to was that no structural change was needed. That we could continue to worship as we always had, that Sunday services were for us, and that our ministry and mission could happen outside the church the other six days of the week. It is true that we need both the opportunity to pour out and a chance to be refilled - but if we're pouring where God wants us to pour, then I firmly believe that He will fill us, even if that means our entryway decor and music style change a little.
"In today's context the average person finds the church through the personal invitation of a friend or coworker who has typically been previously unchurched. The majority of people inviting others to attend a weekend service are still disconnected from Christ and have only recently started attending weekend services or exploring and experimenting with the faith themselves. Sometimes they experiment and explore with several different faith options. Those who attend who are formerly disconnected from Christ and the church often attend for several years before going forward with an expression of faith in Christ. [They] often participate in many aspects of church life prior to going public with their faith. Those who go public with their faith often have been discipled and grounded in the faith long before going public. Conversion, in this context, becomes part of the discipleship process. [These people] seldom fall out of the church; change seems to be lasting.
Too many churches are afraid to reach their community until it is too late. Instead, they need to become intentionally indigenous." ---from Breaking the Missional Code by Ed Stetzer and David Putman
(That's from the next chapter, which we'll discuss this week. I'm very interested to see how it will go.)
A few days later, a group from the same church met at a local bookshop cafe to discuss another book: For the City. Same basic topic, same basic vision - vastly different attitude. The same thing was brought up, and a constructive conversation about areas that could be changed and improved followed. These members are no less faithful, no less Christian than the others - but they are willing to cross the invisible lines that have been drawn as though they weren't even there. They're willing to admit that maybe, just maybe, we aren't perfect and that maybe a little change on our part would result in greater effectiveness in reaching those we desire to reach. If the church culture feels uncomfortable around the local culture, then we must realize that the discomfort is mutual. But on whose shoulders lies the responsibility to change?
And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that He was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to His disciples, "Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?"And when Jesus heard it, He said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." Mark 2:16-17
"A great church, a healthy church, is one in which Jesus Christ is found in word and deed." ---from For the City by Darrin Patrick and Matt Carter
The church culture does differ widely from our local culture in many ways. If we invited "them" into our weekend gatherings, we might be confronted by people who had walked or biked there. Their shoes (which might be sandals, Converse, hiking shoes, biker boots, those weird "barefooted" things, or any number of other non-traditional foot-coverings) might possibly be dirty or muddy. They might be sweaty, or wet, or have bits of hay in their hair. The hand we shake might be covered in paint, grease, ink, clay, henna, dye stains, tattoos, and/or rough callouses. The womens' hair might be short; the mens' might be long. Some might be dyed colors not naturally found on the human head, and some might be in dreadlocks. But wouldn't our function as the hands and feet of Jesus be better served, not by confiscating their cup of coffee lest they spill it on our carpet, but in finding out through conversation that they are a local coffee roaster and determining to visit their cafe at the earliest opportunity? Our assumption that Christians all look like middle-class college-educated suit-wearing office-employed Americans is as ridiculous as the owners of Southern plantations a few hundred years ago telling their African slaves that they would be white when they went to heaven. We need to get the image of a blue-eyed, clean-shaven Jesus out of our heads and see instead the face of love - one transformed, not by outward appearance, but by inner regeneration.
I worked alone at the little local shop where I'm employed this past Valentine's Day. Midway through the afternoon, a girl in heart-splattered knee-high socks burst cheerily in the door. I recognized her as a barista at a nearby cafe. "I come with chocolate!" she announced, proffering a large market bag that was half full of a variety of Valentine candies. I thanked her and took a handful of Sixlets, my personal favorite. My afternoon was brightened, and she went on to the next shop. The establishment where she works is not a Christian one, and it's on our list of "Love the City" places-to-reach - but that day, she was doing a far better job of loving the city than I was.