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5.11.2009

Rethinking "Church"

I attend a United Methodist congregation, and although I'm in the midst of my own semi-crisis of faith, I love the message of the UMC and the emphasis on reaching out to others with Christ's love.

That's why I'm excited about the new direction of 10,000 Doors and what it could mean for how we look at church and reaching other people. It's part of the "Rethink Church" program, reminding us that for all the doors leading into our buildings, there are thousands and tens of thousands leading us out into the world.

Some people will call it a new idea. Some will argue it's the "emergent church" theory packaged differently. I say it's only doing what Christ himself did. It's getting up and taking our faith out into the world, and reaching people where they are rather than requiring them to come to us. It's setting aside our preconceived notions of what church ought to be, and focusing on how to live a totally Christian lifestyle.

The thing is, it's not really enough to just be a "good Christian" - go to church, say the right things, tear up at the right songs, know the words to the newest praise music, remember all your liturgy from heart, put your envelope in the plate faithfully each week, study your Sunday School lessons, or even attend the other activities that go on in your building. That's putting God in a box, even if that box is the center of your social life, or of the utmost importance to you personally.

It's like this semi-crisis of faith I'm having. God doesn't just give us stuff - money, homes, better jobs, health, or whatever - because we're faithful to him. There's a sacrifice expected. When Christ called his followers, he didn't say "y'all keep on fishing and come when you're done and don't forget to tie up all your loose ends first and get things straight at home." He just said "follow me" and they came. When the rich young ruler asked how to get into heaven, Christ didn't say "if you keep on praying and saying the right things and making yourself visible in the right places, I'll keep giving you riches;" he said "if you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." (Matthew 19:21)

It's not that we have to be poor and do without in order to follow Christ. Far from it, we need to be good stewards of what we've been given. But it's not about material things. God is not some omnipotent ATM machine or genie in a lamp waiting on us to ask him for whatever it is we want and then "poof" there it is. It's not that we can think ourselves rich, or pray ourselves rich (or healed of disease, or in a different place, or whatever it is that we want.) Over and over, near the end of his life, Christ talks about the sacrifice - of home, family, social status, "stuff", even life (both his and the disciples.)

Ever hear the song "Get Down" by Audio Adrenaline? The verses are worth repeating:

Lavishly our lives are wasted
Humbleness is left untasted
You can't live your life to please yourself, yeah
That's a tip from my mistake
Exactly what it doesn't take
To win you've got to come in last place
To live your life you've got to lose it
And all the losers get a crown

All I need's another day
Where I can't seem to get away
From the many things that drag me down, yeah
I'm sure you've had a day like me
When nothing seems to set you free
From burdens you can't carry all alone
In you weakness He is stronger
In your darkness He shines through
When you're crying He's your comfort
When you're all alone, He's carrying you

This valley is so deep
I can barely see the sun
I cry out for mercy, Lord
And You lift me up again


That attitude of stuff being important gets in the way. How can you expect to relate to someone who's struggling to pay their bills, feed their family, keep their head above water, when your concern is buying a yacht? (Seriously y'all this was the desire stated by someone in my class.) How do you say "come to my church and be welcome" when that person thinks "I would never, ever fit in there" or "there is no way I could send my kid on this trip or that retreat, we can't even keep power on all the time."

This is my struggle - to reach out to these people I see every day. People I know are struggling with poverty, depression, illness, addiction, even just feeling like there will never ever be a day they can really truly get out of the situation they're in. That's the reality of living in a poor, rural county. That's what we have to relate to as a church. We have to be able to go out into that and say "let me help you in whatever way I can" and then when they want to know why, we share with them Christ's love. We give them that hope for something better.

But we can't do that sitting in our air-conditioned church, watching PowerPoint presentations, and constantly putting money in whatever group's hand is reaching out that week. People can't relate to that, they feel intimidated. They feel bad enough about where they are without piling on the guilt of not being able to contribute financially. Yes, it's great when people can give financially, we couldn't do what we do without it. But it ought not be the focus - it's the reason I have such a distaste for the fundraising drives or annual budget sermons. Yes, it's needed and yes it ought to be a goal for all of us, but in communities with such diversity in prosperity, we ought to remind people that tithing is not just financial - we need volunteers to make programs work, we need people to pray for our leadership and outreach. There is so much more than money that makes a church go round, and I think sometimes we forget that. We forget it in our lives, and we forget it in our worship.

The point of all of the above is this - all those doors that reach out into our communities go to all sorts of different people in all sorts of different circumstances. If we could stop and think about how we reach them, instead of making them want to come to us, we might reach a lot more and make a larger difference in our home towns.