Sometimes, really good stuff can have some really dangerous consequences.
As a pastor, one of the things I’m always trying to do is get people more fully engaged with the ministries of the local church; attending worship regularly, finding small groups where they can encounter true community and accountability, studying the Bible together more fervently, and developing active and vibrant prayer lives together.
Lately, I’m beginning to rethink this tactic a bit.
Yes, these things are all vital parts of living into what it means to personally follow Jesus, yet for too many people who claim Christ, they’ve become intentional diversions; purposeful, safe distractions for us, as we avoid actually doing the dangerous, uncomfortable work of loving and serving people outside the Church.
A Church Without Perks
It isn’t news to anyone who has been part of a local church community for any length of time that most of them tend to be pretty insular entities, becoming more self-preserving and navel-gazing as they get larger and more “successful.”
For as much as we talk during our Sunday services about “making disciples of all nations,” or about “seeking and saving what was lost,” or about “reaching the world for Jesus,” we all too often become preoccupied with the amenities and perks we’ve come to enjoy as religious club members. The church for us becomes less about equipping us to personally bring love to a broken world, and more about receiving … and receiving … and receiving.
Every week, as a pastor of a really great church community, I get a front row seat to some incredibly powerful moments during our Sunday gatherings. People come to realize God’s love for them for the first time, others recommit to honoring their marriages, to recovering their sobriety and to rededicating their lives to Christ.
There are times when the congregation is singing together, or someone is giving amazing testimony, or sharing a challenging, inspirational message, and people are genuinely moved. There are moments when euphoric joy sweeps through the room, and God’s presence is tangible.
But so often now, while that is happening; in the middle of the moment, I find myself thinking about what is happening simultaneously, just beyond the walls of our Worship Center, just a hundred yards from our place of praise.
People are hurting.
Marriages are hanging by a thread.
Kids are starving; for food and for attention.
Depression, and anxiety and suicidal thoughts run wild through the minds of teenagers.
People drink, to numb.
They cut, to cope.
They watch porn, to substitute.
They scour Facebook, to escape.
They endure work and school day after day, and wonder why they should get up in the morning.
They feel lost, and aimless and hopeless.
And the whole time, not one of them is thinking, “I really hope the hundreds of Christians in that building over there will all get into a small group.”
Stepping Into the Space
What they are probably doing is waiting for someone to step into their space, to intrude into their routine and give them a reason to keep going. They’re looking for us, who have what we have and who know what we know, to move beyond the thresholds of our comfy Christian clubhouses, and bring the radical love of Jesus, already. They’re waiting for us to break up our holy huddles and move.
Meanwhile, we’ll all be another doing another 12-week study on how much God loves the world.
How many times do we really need to read and study Jesus saying to become “servant of all,” or to “love our enemies and bless those who curse us,” or to see His love for the poor or His care for the hungry or His compassion for the orphans and widows, before we make an effort to live it out?
How much exegesis do we have to do, before we adequately understand enough to go and “love the least”?
Friends, I think Jesus may look at His Church and be wondering, “How many more Sundays are you going to need before you’re ready to actually do any of this stuff?”
The Vitality of Community
I’m not saying Christian community isn’t incredibly important, or that worship services and small groups aren’t life-giving places of transformation and spiritual growth. They’ve certainly been that for me, and for so many I know.
But I’ve also seen them become spiritual crutches; places to talk and talk and talk about the stunningly beautiful words of Jesus for literally years, while hiding from the responsibility of physically walking in His footsteps; out of kiddie pool comfort, and into the deep end of meeting the world in its mess.
So get together and sing and share this Sunday, or whenever you gather. Study and pray together. Carry one another’s burdens, break bread together and encourage one another.
Just don’t wait too long before you put feet to that faith and flesh to those prayers.
Don’t let being in the Church divert you too long from being the Church.
This article is reposted from johnpavlovitz.com with permission.
is a pastor, writer and activist from Wake Forest, North Carolina. In the past four years his blog Stuff That Needs To Be Said has reached a diverse worldwide audience. A 20-year veteran in the trenches of local church ministry, John is committed to equality, diversity, and justice—both inside and outside faith communities. He recently released his first book A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community.