I’ll never forget a conversation I had a few years back with a group of Christians. I had been attending some atheist and freethinker groups for a couple of years, and I was continually impressed by the kinds of honest relationships and communities my friends in these groups were forming. I longed to see something like that happen except with Christians leading the effort. Since many of these group meetings I had attended were in “neutral” places like breweries or coffee shops, I was praying about whether I too could start such a group in a neutral territory like a brewery.
When I shared this prayer request with the group of Christians, one of them antagonistically shot back: Well what are you going to do once all these bar people are coming to your church!?
Yikes! (Note: This dear friend is now one of my biggest supporters of ministry in uncomfortable places!)
I was shocked. How could a professing Christian have such a strong view toward people they hadn’t even met? Looking back on that experience now, I’ve come to see how often I have similar reactions. It is so easy for us to deal with people in the abstract rather than as actual people, isn’t it? Some might call this othering – labeling and treating other people as being intrinsically different and therefore unrelatable to ourselves.
I have been meditating on the story of the man with a withered hand in Mark 3:1-6 in preparation for an upcoming men’s retreat. This passage is a wonderful account of Jesus’ compassion on social outcasts. Jesus is willing to challenge the oppressive religious authorities of his day in order to heal this man and restore him in the eyes of the surrounding community.
But this beautiful story has a dark ending. Verse 6 reads:
The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Since it is common for us to read the Pharisees as the villains in the gospel stories, it is quite easy for us to read over a verse like this without giving it a second thought. Continue Reading
Bishop William Temple once said, “The Church is the only institution that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members.” It’s a nice sentiment, isn’t it? Perhaps attempting to echo the teachings of Jesus from places like Mark 2:17 (“I came not to call the righteous, but sinners”) and his many parables about the Kingdom of God (like that of The Great Banquet – Luke 14:12-24), this quote reminds us that the mission of the Church is to go out into the world to make disciples. In so doing, more and more people will have peace with God and be made whole.
So why does it seem like becoming a part of a church can often be so, well – difficult? In his recent book The Second Mountain, author David Brooks describes what some might call a conversion to Christianity, or what others (myself included) would call a spiritual journey toward embracing Christianity. When it came to actually interacting with Christian people and Christian institutions, Brooks describes his journey in this way:
“I was on a journey toward God, and I found out pretty quickly along the way that religious people and institutions sometimes built ramps that made it easier to continue my journey, or they built walls, making the journey harder. I found that many of the walls in the Christian world were caused by the combination of an intellectual inferiority complex combined with a spiritual superiority complex. I found that Christians, especially of the Protestant evangelical variety, are plagued by the sensation that they are not quite as intellectually rigorous or as cool as the secular world. At the same time, many of them are inflated by the notion that they are a quantum leap or two more moral.”
Yikes! In a future post I will explore some of the ramps he found that made it easier to interact with Christians and their churches. In this post, I want to explore the four walls – or barriers – that Brooks discovered in his experience and discuss some of the applications it might have for our churches. Continue Reading