Thursday, September 13, 2018

Church for the people because God is FOR people

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Rather than pretend to be nice I’d prefer to be honest. Being a first-generation Christian, and a pastor and chaplain at that, I believe what I say here is relevant because I’m a relative newcomer.
You see, I’m ‘new’ to church; well, within the last fifteen years or so. I’m new and I still don’t fit. That’s a problem for many when it comes to the church. They just don’t fit.
Fifteen years may not seem new to you, but most people I know who I would call peers have been around a lot longer than that. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just that I feel like I’m the newbie.
When I spoke with a couple slightly older than I at school when I picked up my son, and I mentioned what I did, they said, ‘Nothing good comes out of church these days.’ They weren’t being rude. They were referring to several things as it happened, not just about sex abuse and the abysmal responses of historical silence predicated on power and control. They were a nice couple, but they were unfazed by who I stood for (Jesus). Part of me wanted to celebrate the fact that they felt they could just be honest. But another part of me felt impotent.
What they were saying, in effect, was the church nowadays is in it for itself, which, decoded for us Christians means, they don’t see it as a Jesus movement. Many of us have a vastly different experience, knowing that it is all about Jesus. But not these people.
It reminds me of the time Graham Mabury said about his nightline days; Australians don’t have a problem with Jesus, but they have a problem with his retail outlets.
How is it that we have given our lives to the pursuit of Jesus, within the safe cloister of our churches, yet many people outside our walls see us as glorified clubs?
I’ve been praying about something over the past year or two, as God has undone the pastoral heart beating within my chest. This prayer has been something like, ‘How are you radically reforming your church, Lord? How are You making Your church a church for the common people, again?’ I’ve been praying on that old and tired term, revival.
Why isn’t the church the beacon it could be?
Because the church has been industrialised.
The little church I belong to, a church where I’m an elder, where I preach at, and where I support our pastor, and serve there with my wife, is apparently a dying church. It’s been dying for a decade or more. I say it facetiously, because I see it as the hope of the world. Yet, some bigger churches view our little church as a dinosaur, hungry to absorb what few young people we have. As a church we’re praying earnestly for revival and for God’s will regarding how to serve our community. We don’t so much want souls saved for Jesus, as if we’d cram whole persons into some Christian-sausage-making machine. We’re not geared for that. And that’s a plus I think. But we do want to make an impact in our local area. We want to be a tangible presence of Jesus, but in that we realise that people don’t want Jesus shoved down their throats.
They want what I wanted pre-Jesus:
for us to do our good works without strings attached.
The love of Jesus is done for love, not with a catch.
They want to see us put our money where our mouths are. They want us to be a people who put people first, not a people who have a reputation for exploiting people by getting them ‘saved’ and baptised and serving to build our ministries so we can have even more power and influence.
It still begs the question. How do we make our little contribution to our community in a way that our community can see Jesus through what we do? We need a way of getting involved in people’s lives, so it needs to be something worthwhile. We’re not the font of all knowledge. We’re not the service that everyone needs several times daily, like McDonald’s. We’re not some kind of innately attractive resource or material.
But, because of the love of Jesus in us, we want to be something by doing something.
Because of the love of Jesus, we want people to know that love, and they can only know that love when we move close to them. When we enter their world with kindness and grace to share. We need to find methods and mediums of tangible compassion and express ourselves in caring ways, not caring about insults that come our way. We need to be ready to roll up our sleeves, get dirty, lose ourselves in giving ourselves away, and trust God for the time when they might say, ‘Why do you do what you do?’ And yet not make much ado about nothing. Our lack of response will speak more volumes for our real motives for love than our clichéd words. Then, when enough relationship capital has been invested, and when they arrive at crisis, we’re ready to listen, support, encourage, and share our hope.
One person at a time.
That moment may never arrive. And that would have to be okay. We’re not ‘in it’ for a result.
This article isn’t the answer. The answer is something nebulous, and perhaps there’s many different forms of answer.
But we need to be a church for the people because God is for people.

I’m probably not the most credible voice even in my own city, but if my limited experience of church as a pastor is anything to go by, I can tell why the church is floundering. I have found more honesty and transparency and desire for real relationship outside the four walls of structured church. This is something we must ask God to challenge and change.

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