Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Are We Seeking Community, the Freedom to Be Me or Both?

Free To Be Me

During part one of this series, I looked at some problems with a dislike, I’m not even using hatred here, with the church in general by people who are either non-Christian or Christians that have the opinion that life at home on Sunday is better than being in church. Part two established that we become part of something called a body when we do step into a church.

The question then becomes why aren’t people coming? Of all the comments I received from the survey a few weeks back, most viewed the people as snobby, cliquish, or outright hypocritical. So is every church missing the boat on people? Of course not. So I present a case of four probable scenarios that people fall into and then we’ll talk scripturally on how people in the church are supposed to act like. Keep in mind, these scenarios are ones I chose to throw out there and are not the end-all of possible scenarios.

The first scenario involves the person seeking out the church as not all that into the decision. This could take on many forms. The person could only give one shot to each prospective church or go irregularly. I certainly don’t think that you should go and sit in the same place every time you attend, however, probably being consistent in an area might improve your chances on someone taking that stroll over to talk to you. Also, leaving in a hurry is not suggested. I might even go as far as to say don’t wear running shoes. Don’t be ready to leave as the pastor is saying the concluding prayer, even if the football game is involved. I’m not advocating hanging out in your seat like your coming down after a Grateful Dead concert, but walk normally.

The final three scenarios might have more to do with the church members than you, so please be advised to be patient with them. First, there are some lazy members who have one of the following diseases: Handstuckinpocket, gluedbuttockstochair (this is even more complicated in wooden pews), headinsandybeachdreamland, or the dreaded gottaprayatthealtartolookholyitis. Honestly, some church members are not thinking or are just lazy on certain days, just like everyone else. It’s not you, it is us, the church blind not recognizing the need.

The second of these three also has to do with churchgoer comfort. After people go to a church for a while, they often find a clique. I’ll call it what it is. We (I say this because I’ve done it) get so involved with our buddies talking about how great (or not so great) the pastor’s message or the choir or the worship was that we forget to look around to see needs or new people. There is a comfort in being in an in-crowd and a hesitant discomfort to leave that crowd to talk to anyone. Again, it’s not you, it is us, the social butterflies of the church that haven’t left the cocoon in ages.

The final scenario I’ll cover is shamefully a real scenario. I’ll ask some honest questions first. Are you a popular sinner, meaning that you are well known enough that even you are surprised the church hasn’t fallen in yet? Do you smell bad? Are you well dressed? Have you grown a beard to look like a ZZ Top fan? If you’re a lady, are you a little over perfumed? None of those were very nice questions, but they are real. Why? Once Christians get really comfortable in being a Christian, they tend not to hang out with many sinners. Again, it’s not you personally, but we need to hang out with brothers and sisters in the Lord because it will help us behave better. I don’t know why, but there is this fear about the unknown. The problem is that most Christians forget they were that unknown when they gave their lives to Christ and thanks to someone else, they actually were able to be part of the network of believers.

So non-churchgoers this first half was for you. Don’t fear coming on down to a good local church. We (the church going public) really are trying to do better and be on good behavior so you will come back. We do want you to be part of the family, an equal friend with us, not the whacked out drunken uncle three times removed.

Church going public this second half is for you. This is the way we really are supposed to treat new people as they come in. Don’t feel lectured though. I’m talking to myself as well.

The first thing that I’ll talk about is The Great Commission. Jesus told us to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18). For some reason, too many of us are staying. Staying stuck in our seats. We won’t go across the pew to ask someone if they are new or just even to say hello. If we are so intimidated by the world that we won’t operate on our turf, it really says something about the God we serve. It says we don’t believe what the pastor says. Furthermore, it means we don’t believe what the Bible says.

We’ve become like the Priest and the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). We’re so scared that we run away hoping that someone else will take up the slack and care for our visitors. I actually saw a church member ask a visitor where he was visiting from in the Café of our church a couple weeks ago and bought the person a coffee while taking a couple minutes to talk to him. I don’t the person by name, but I really wanted to walk up to the member and pat him on the back for doing what all of us should do. It was a nice gesture and may spark that person to return, not for the free coffee, but for kind fellowship. I do wonder if we told people we’d give them free coffee every week if they’d show up for the service. I’m not talking about Maxwell House, I’m talking Starbucks type stuff. That’s another blog for another day.

Plus, when we say hello, we never know who we’re talking to. Hebrews 13:2 tells us to “not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” Sure, a new person could just come and sit in the pew for a while, but you never know, if you are being inviting to the one person who can solve a problem the church has been praying for. That person may be an excellent teacher, a tech genius, or a person who might donate to get that new gymnasium the church has always wanted. I’m not saying that we pursue those things, but you never know who is checking out the local church on any given Sunday.

First Samuel Chapter 16 tells the story of how Samuel, searching for the successor to King Saul, talked to every one of David’s brothers before meeting David and having God tell him that he was the one. David was the youngest and the smallest. He was the least likely candidate to serve and yet he became King and known biblically forever as a “man after God’s own heart.” I remember singer Gary Chapman saying in a Time-Life Christian CD series that he wanted to be “God’s man.” How do we know that we are not entertaining a man or woman that will be a great servant of the King of Kings.

I love Romans 15:5-7 and how it talks of accepting one another.
Rom 15:5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus,
Rom 15:6 so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Rom 15:7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
These verses say some very important things. Verse 5 tells us that God gives us endurance and encouragement to make a spirit of unity. He wants us to last together and lift each other up. Verse 6 talks of being one heart and one mouth, not that we’re saying the same thing, but that we are able to praise God in our own way. Verse 7 tells us to accept each other, just like Christ accepted us. That’s powerful. I remember what I was like when Christ accepted me. It wasn’t pretty. But he took me in anyway, the same way we are to look at new people as they come in to our churches. Hebrews 10:24-25 tells us to think about,
Heb 10:24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
Heb 10:25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Jesus wants us together! Why? So that we can encourage each other to finish strong together. The Gospel is not to be lived out alone. It is to be lived out in community with other believers. God knows we will need each other to stand strong. I’m taking a class on the armor of God and I learned something this week that I never heard before. I never realized the shields were made for team protection. What I mean by that is that there was a special way that soldiers held their shields together and formed either a straight line or a turtle type shell which made fiery darts not able to penetrate the ranks. As long as they stayed in step together, no one could get in and the ranks could keep moving through the opposition.

I’ll issue a couple final warnings to those of the church that think this is not their assignment or that they should be heralded if they choose to accept the mission. Philippians 2:3-5 tell us to do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility and above your own interests to the needs of others. In doing so, remember to not get an attitude, but to do it like Jesus.

Why do we want to do it like Jesus? Very simple. Like it or not, He is coming back and Lucy, we will have some ‘splaining to do. I’ll let the words of Jesus finish the story.
Mat 25:31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.
Mat 25:32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
Mat 25:33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Mat 25:34 "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
Mat 25:35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,
Mat 25:36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
Mat 25:37 "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?
Mat 25:38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?
Mat 25:39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
Mat 25:40 "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
Mat 25:41 "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
Mat 25:42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,
Mat 25:43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'
Mat 25:44 "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'
Mat 25:45 "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'
Mat 25:46 "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
I don’t want to be a goat and I don’t want any of you to be goats either. Welcoming people isn’t always taking care of people’s non-spiritual needs, but sometimes those needs have to be met before anything else can be done. I remember a time that I was teaching at a very poor school during my student teaching and my supervising teacher told me to go have breakfast with the kids. I’d eaten, but he told me to just go hang out and eat. I did. I saw several that were talking about their lives with each other and how hard some of the homes were. And they came to school. I thought a couple of these kids deserved A’s for just showing up. Their lives were not the greatest, but they had a need to learn. So do we. We need to learn that everyone needs the love of a savior that can change us all. He may not make our earthly life rich and famous, but He will take us to a heavenly place with streets of gold where people will not thirst or hunger any more. We’ll be singing hallelujahs with the best choir ever. What a worship that will be!

I love you guys!


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Matt @ The Church of No People said...

This was a great post. Although we'll never be rid of hypocrisy in the church - or anything for that matter, I think there's occuring a 'revolution against hypocrisy.' Churches realize it's a weakness, and we're bringing it to attention. I hope it soon won't be that great of an excuse for people to avoid church. At some point, they have to cut people some slack. But you know how people are. They'll get focused on any excuse, no matter how small, to disbelieve the Bible.