I have loved my church for almost the entire time that I’ve been attending….over 2 years now. I love the people. I love the service, the fellowship, the teaching, the events, the programs they offer. However, it has come to pass that I have become more objective to what my church is, who my church is. There are times in my life where ignorance is bliss. This has been the way with church. I am always sad when I notice that I am not ignorant anymore because I am forced to deal with the bad and the good about any given thing – in this case, church. And so this has compelled me to write this post.
As Christians, we tend to flock to that which we know, those which we know. Even within our churches there are cliques. There are women who dress similarly, cut their hair similarly, shop at the same stores. There are men who do the same, who play the same sports, who talk the same way. Yes, we may have our little minute differences (i.e. music preferences, food preferences, the weather, etc), but in general we all act the same. We are often so close to one another that we are no longer capable of truly reaching out to those who are different than us…even if we want to. We expect those that enter our churches to conform to what we believe and how we believe it. Even if we don’t think we’re expecting, we really do. Our actions prove it. We are disdainful and “sad” for those who don’t. We love on people more if they are coming to faith and, often, love on them less when they don’t. We don’t take people for who they are where they are. We often take people with the sole purpose to minister to them, teach them, mold them. These things are not bad. They are wonderful, but it should not be our sole purpose.
People walk away from the church every day. Why? Because they feel like we don’t take them for who they are. They feel like they don’t fit in, aren’t accepted. They feel like “the church” is trying to change them, not just love them. I am really stepping out on a limb by writing this post. I am risking serious ridicule. I am risking hurting feelings and stepping toes of people I do love dearly.
I’ve noticed a lot of local churches growing. That’s wonderful! I’ve noticed that the people that are entering our churches and the ones who are becoming new members are Christians. That’s just ok. We need other Christians to join our churches so that we can continue to outreach and serve efficiently. However, what are we doing for the non Christians that enter our churches? What are we doing about the people who leave the church, who stop attending? Do we call them? Email them? Make every effort to contact them? Check on them? Do we really even want them back? Do we want the people who are the black sheep of our Christian family in our churches? Or are we happier when they leave because there is less conflict, less debate? You may say that those people who leave have every opportunity to contact us, to reconnect, to attend. They are invited to all the functions and their email address is attached to all the mass emails that are sent out. Really? Is that the correct Christian mentality? Are we supposed to wait for them to come to us? Are we supposed to be offended when they don’t? Are we only loving people that are willing to become like us or are like us already? We preach grace and love. We teach grace and love. We show grace and love relatively easily to one another, but are we showing it to those who don’t believe or those who believe differently? Are we caring for them just as much if not more than we care for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? Let these questions sink in. It is likely not easy to admit that any of these apply to us.
I’ve found that Christians often let their convictions get in the way of Christ. We are convicted about different things. We are convicted that we’re doing something bad and should make every effort to change that. I think this is a good thing. If you’re doing drugs and the Lord convicts you of this, you should change it. The same applies for all evil doing, all things that are bad for you or those around you. We are convicted we are right about something, a belief, a law. This can be bad. I’m not saying it always is. But if we’re convicted that we’re right and we’re wrong, what then? Is it the Lord convicting us or is it us and our own personal beliefs? We should analyze this because Christ wants us to love him with all our strength, mind, and heart and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Everything else will follow. This constant attempt to be good, obey laws, and be right pushes “outsiders” away and ultimately defeats the point of being a Christian – to outreach and connect with people who are not like us.
All this to say that I think many of us are not the church. Church is not who we are as the quote indicates. For many Christians church is the legalistic law that actually prevents us from being Christians. I’m disappointed that I know someone special and close to me who has walked away from the church for the very reasons I’ve discussed above. I’m even more disappointed about the ones I don’t know that have done the same. These black sheep of our church family so desperately want fellowship.
Our sermon in church today was on service. Are we serving our fellow man without the motive to sway them to “our side”? Or are we serving them for the purpose to get them to church? Or are we not even serving them at all? I see a lot of conditional love, service and grace. It’s heartbreaking. It is our job to pursue relentlessly, serve and love unconditionally, and to have grace that abounds. Unfortunately, I’m not really seeing a lot of that.
One of the lyrics from a song we sang in church today said, “Sometimes the space between ourselves is greater than the distance between the stars.” Somehow we must close these gaps because people are slipping through. They are receiving lukwarm handshakes, cautious glances, wondering smiles, and silence. No wonder they don’t want to come back.