There is a lot of emotions bottled up, questions swirling in every direction, and this results in a perplexed look tattooed on my face. I have served and/or pastored in churches that were small, big, filled with bells and whistles, and stripped down to light music with conversational teaching. The styles have changed but one thing has always been consistent: Others participating in the church has been a bit difficult. BUT, and this is a big BUT, the reasons why people have stopped participating, don't ever start to participate, or cut back on participating are relatively understandable. I say relative because they are still, mostly, excuses.
Here is where things are just really, really different and mind numbing to me. My previous experiences involved asking people to participate within a program that mostly involves those within the church, or doing small projects for those in the surrounding community. So helping with the youth and kids, participating in a small group, playing or singing in the band and maybe doing some greeting on Sunday morning. These seem to be the staples. So people are too busy or whatever it is, which, again is reasonably understandable. This leads to people leaving the church for reasons of not feeling connected, fed (whatever that exactly means), and something that has to with what they don't get. Truly, as much as it can be frustrating, there is some level of understanding.
So this leads to today, Ecclesia, and things are different. We can be found in the downtown area of Muskegon, which is very diverse in several ways, and our faith family is made up of a very diverse group of people. The area in which we are active is full of all kinds of very high needs, practical needs. People without homes, food, clothes and laced with addictions and brokenness. We have a Sunday morning gathering with music and preaching/teaching. But anything beyond attending that, so anyone who claims Christianity would involve taking care of people's most basic needs, which is not easy and can be messy.
But it is at the foundation of being human.
I know there are needs everywhere and they are all valid. But I'm wondering how you walk past your neighbor who is without food, clothes, or the most basic of needs because it makes you feel uncomfortable? So then we can go to the church that has needs, valid needs, but needs we can meet in ways that are comfortable. So you will drive out of the town you live in because it is messy and you will pull into a church that is cleaner and more comfortable, I should be OK with it?
As a pastor and a fellow human being, I understand it is not easy, it can be exhausting, and it pulls on every heart string.Yet watching God wash over people at the most basic of ways is the greatest reward one can participate in.
So when people sit in front of you and say, "We are leaving the church because we're not COMFORTABLE," it doesn't sit well. In fact it doesn't sit at all! It slithers around your neck and slowly chokes you without ceasing. "Are you a Christian?" The response, "Yes." Well then, I really need to know where you go from here? Reasons of attending Bible studies and being with people "like us," do not land. They crash. They burn. They suck.
I read my Bible and it does not make my life easier. It calls me to live. And I see the "discipleship" of those in the Bible as a place of sacrificing more, not less. It's uncomfortable to help people have food, a place to sleep, not be naked? Yep, it's not always easy, but seriously!
What is church? What does it mean to be a Christian? A list of belief statements? Bible studies that help us KNOW more? A place we attend and someone takes care of us? A group of people to do life with, but people like us?
I am not asking you to hang out with crazy youth or loud kids. You can, but I'm wondering if you can start by supporting us in sheltering people, clothing people, and feeding people. We would love to invite people into a different story that is not destructive. We're starting there. Because that is right in front of us. Too much to ask? You can ease your way in. Still too much? Oh, you're going to go to the big church. The one with good music, groups and studies.
Ok. You'll be praying for us. Thanks. We'll be waiting for someone else to be the answer to your prayers.
I need God's crazy love and grace because I'm bleeding here. This is very hard, but what can I do? Quit? Ignore it? Ecclesia is from God, but now we are looking for His body. Help. Please.