"My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, 'Here's a good seat for you,' but say to the poor man, 'You stand there' or 'Sit on the floor by my feet,' have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor. "- James 2: 1-6
I think that the Lord is trying to get my attention lately on a particular issue, and it's been uncomfortable for me. But I want to share what I think He wants me to learn with you. Remember, I'm preaching to myself here. Take from this what you will, but I'm not trying to point fingers at anyone in particular but myself. =)
David and I have visited some large churches in the past weeks. (I hate visiting churches, because I feel like I'm evaluating instead of worshipping, but that's another story.) Anyway, some have had interesting ministry focuses that I haven't really experienced much before. Specifically, one of them had ministries that involved drug addiction recovery, serving single parents, extending a hand to unchurched teens, and reaching out to those with disabilities and their families. They also had a mentoring program outreach to a couple of local housing projects.
When we visited on Sunday morning, the first thing that I noticed was that the church didn't look much like a traditional church. It looked more like a hotel lobby, with soft seats against the walls, multiple coffee and donut stations, and large screens on the walls. The second thing that I noticed was that I wasn't mainly surrounded with people who look just like me. This church looked like the world at large, not the small microcosm of it that I'm slowly realizing that I'm used to seeing on Sunday mornings. There were African families in full traditional garb. There were multiple people in wheelchairs, and I nearly knocked over a blind man whose dog was being a bit unruly. The teens were a bit more scantily clad and pierced than I usually see in church, but hey, they were in church. And I'm pretty sure that I was in the nursing mother's room with a single, teenage mother. This church was a rainbow of young, old, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, dressed up, dressed down, etc.
And when I went home, I realized, to my own discomfort, that I hadn't been comfortable at church that morning. And that, quite frankly, was a puzzle to me. I started thinking about why I had been uncomfortable, trying to flesh out the reasons. Did I hear any faulty theology being preached? No, the sermon had been meaty and doctrinally sound. Did anyone do or say anything ugly to me? No, everyone had been very friendly and kind. So why was I uncomfortable? I finally had to admit to myself that I was uncomfortable because several of the people I worshipped with that morning had their problems and sufferings on display for me to see, and I wanted to hide from that. I realized that I've gotten used to common middle class sins and sufferings, and any that are outside of those are apparently outside of my current comfort zone.
Here's a partial list of things that I'm comfortable hearing about from fellow believers:
a. difficulty overcoming road rage
b. spiritual pride
c. inconsistency with a morning quiet time
d. difficulty disciplining toddlers
e. problems with in-laws
And here's a partial list of things that make me want to hide because I feel incapable of helping/don't want to be reminded that there's such hardship in the world:
a. relapse in drug addiction
b. grief over a spouse who has committed adultery
c. coping with a child's severe physical disability
d. new believer who doesn't even know yet that much in his/her lifestyle is sin
I have learned, to my shame, that I am more comfortable with certain problems and sins than others. I, without realizing it consciously, have wanted others to show me a shiny, squeaky clean exterior when I see them at church. I, without realizing it, have wanted to be surrounded mainly by people who come from my background and have my same education level.
David and I have been members of two very different churches in the past couple of years. One was a very small church with few workers and many needs. The last one was a larger church with many strong believers and few unmet needs. The first church taught me that there needs to be a good balance of strong and weak believers, because you need to have enouch stronger believers to provide for the needs of weaker ones who may need more at that moment. The second church had so many strong believers that I knew of very few people who were in need. Now, maybe that was just because I didn't know enough people in the larger church, but I really doubt that many in the church were struggling with drug addiction or broken marriages, and I also didn't know of many teens whose parents did not come with them to church. It was a church of super Christians and amazing Christian families, and that was inspiring to see.
But I wonder... should a church be composed mainly of super Christians? Our last church is thrilled and happy to disciple new believers; I know they are. But I wonder...is it possible that many newer believers, struggling with obvious sin patterns, come in the door, see the high level of spiritual living, and run for the hills? Do they feel comfortable enough there to stay and be loved on? And would there be a place for them to exercise their gifts there, or would they always feel like there were so many people who were stronger than them, that they weren't needed?
And I wonder if I, in my unconscious desire to have a church where people look whole on the outside, am showing favortism to the "rich." Is today's church equivalent of a "gold ring and fine clothes," a smiling Christian family, wearing clean, neat, modest clothing, each carrying a Bible under their arm? Is today's church equivalent of the "poor man in shabby clothes" a distrustful looking teenage girl, coming in alone, with purple hair and a belly button ring? How do I treat the smiling family? How do I treat the girl? And what does it say about me when I am not as comfortable sitting next to that girl on Sunday morning as I would be sitting next to the family? Nothing good, my friend, nothing good.
Jesus came to die for all of us. All. Of. Us. And I have no right to want my church mainly composed of people who look just like me, who share my same middle class problems, and who I find most easy to relate to. Yes, I know that the middle class have problems. Boy, I sure know I have problems. But I don't get to decide which problems I'm ok with and which problems I'll reject when I serve the body of Christ.
I need to think more about the way I choose a church. I need to be more open to the Holy Spirit leading me to serve other Christians with problems that are foreign and potentially uncomfortable to me. I don't need to pick a church primarily because I feel comfortable there. I need to realize that I'm asking "What's in it for me?" when I visit churches, and I need to start doing less of that. I'm not sure what kind of church that God will call us to, but whatever kind it is, I want to be sure that I'm not joining because it's a place where I won't have to serve people or deal with problems that I'm not used to.
This post is already far too long, but this is a weight that I needed to get off my chest. The church hunt is far from over, but regardless of what church we choose, I know that I'll be looking at things with different eyes now.