Saturday, February 10, 2007

A place of welcome

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Matthew 22:36-39, NIV)
Rick said we should live missional lives, that we should intentionally befriend people who were different than us. I didn't like the sound of that, to be honest. I didn't want to befriend people just to trick them into going to my church. Rick said that was not what he was talking about. He said he was talking about loving people just because they exist - homeless people and Goth people and gays and fruit-nuts. And then I liked the sound of it. I liked the idea of loving people just to love them, not to get them to come to church. If the subject of church came up, I could tell them about our church, but until then, who cared. So we started praying every week that God would teach us to live missional lives, to notice people who needed to be loved.

(Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz: Non-Religious Thoughts About Christian Spirituality, page 135)
Over the years, I've heard so many people say, "How can we connect with the culture, with the community? How can we reach others for Christ?" Rick, the leader of Imago-Dei, the small church that Donald Miller attended, seemed to have the right idea.

But how many times have we as a church prayed that God would teach us to live missional lives? How many times have we as a congregation prayed for those around us, who need to be loved?

So many times, the mainstream church has had the attitude made famous in the movie "Field of Dreams" - "If we build it, they will come." We build a beautiful edifice; we put out attractive signage; a great Yellow Pages ad; news articles in the paper; flyers and notices in our weekly bulletins. And then we ask the question: "We've built the place - why won't they come?"

Could it be that we (as the Church) are asking the wrong Person?

I can only give you one person's perspective, in one context. In Toledo, 90% of the AA meetings are held in churches; one local church I know of hosts AA meetings Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. But there is nothing I have seen in any church so far that specifically invites the community of recovery to fellowship, worship, or provides any other service besides a meeting place.

I have seen one particularly smug sign - in my sister's inlaw's LC-MS church here in Toledo - that I find particularly offensive:

Free coffee. Eternal life.
Yes, membership has its benefits.

The message is, of course, that church members get free coffee and eternal life - and those who are outside the pale are, of course, bereft of those things. Interesting message, of course, given the attitude of Jesus toward the established church in the Gospels...words like "snakes...viper's brood" come to mind. Not to mention that Jesus had much more concern for people than he ever did for institutions and buildings...

Here's the sign I wish I could see on the wall of even one of the churches where I attend meetings:

Questioning? Seeking?
Wondering how to connect with this Higher Power?

So are we.
It's what we do.

Why not join us on the journey?
It doesn't matter where you come from.
You're welcome here.

(The closest I have ever come to that is this series of ads, which brings me to tears every time I watch them.)

And then it would be really, really cool to see a seeker-friendly service - even a prayer service - open and accessible enough that even the most timid souls would find themselves welcome.

I know - it's a dream. Probably a hopeless dream. But most of the ideas that changed the world started with an impossible dream, I guess.

God of love, open our hearts to those who need to be drawn in, welcomed, helped, and loved. And help us to remember that it doesn't matter if they never come to church, if they never sing in the choir or do anything for us. Show us the ones who need to see you, Lord God. And then help us show You to them, through our love. Amen.


Peter said...

Good thoughts, Steve man. BTW, you might have a quick look at what our denomination here in Canada tried out in the way of ads--they have sure raised some eyebrows:

Look for the Easy Answer Squirrel. There are others...

Michael Dodd said...

I suppose part of the problem is that many of us religious types (groups) think that we are inviting people to join us when really God is using us to invite people to join God along with us. I have said it before: too many people who are waitstaff at the messianic banquet seem to think they are the hosts.