There are many things that draw people’s attention. Work, education, family, recreation, television, internet, cell phones, shopping, Blackberries, vacations, renovations, litigations, mortgages, repairs, maintenance, upkeep, planting, weeding, and for the last six months, snow shoveling! In the midst of all this “noise” do people even hear the church? Is anyone listening? Does anyone even care?
I believe that many people do in fact care. In the midst of all the “noise” they are desperately looking for something to fill the void in their lives. Pastor Jud Wilhite (Central Christian Church, Las Vegas) wrote, “I believe with all my heart that the church is the world’s hope. Government can’t change the heart. Education, as important as it is, can’t change the heart. Healthcare and Social Security reform won’t change the heart. Only God can do that. And He uses people–the church–to reach out and impact others.”
If what this pastor said is true, and I believe it is, the answer to man’s needs will only come through the presence of God in their lives, and often that presence is realized through the work and ministry of believers; people who are being “salt” and “light” (Matthew 5:13).
But how have we been doing? Is it possible that in our good-intentioned efforts to maintain the “sanctity” of the Church we have become so closed-in that we are unheard and irrelevant in the 21st century? Certainly our doors are still open. We put out the “Welcome” sign, but how welcome will some people feel? Does the stranger, the one who looks different, acts different, or has a whole set of “problems” really fit in? How about the person who is obviously struggling with an addiction? How about the person recently released from prison? Are they made to truly feel welcome? Would you have them sit beside you?
It seems to me that there are at least three essentials before a person can truly make a church their home.
1. People need a sense of belonging. This is more than a handshake or a greeting. It’s the sense that they are a part of the fellowship; that their presence matters, that their voice is heard, that they have something valuable to offer. It’s a sense that there are people there that care about them; that if they didn’t show up, someone would notice.
2. People need to feel that they won’t be judged. This goes hand in hand with the first item, because if they feel like they’ve been judged, they certainly won’t feel they belong. This is a tough one because we need to be very careful not to accommodate sin, but at the same time we can certainly understand the struggles people have and empathize with them, unless of course, we’ve never sinned.
3. People need to be challenged with the truth. It might feel good to hear what you want to hear, but people look to the church to guide them in truths of God’s Word. At no point should the church try to be “relevant” by watering down the gospel.
Those are my thoughts. What are your thoughts? How are we doing? How can we do better? Are we truly an approachable people? Are we prepared to go out of our comfort zones and meet people who are different than ourselves?
I love our church. We do many things well. But we’re not perfect either. I pray that as we ponder these questions, we will become more sensitive to the needs of the community around us and thereby become the Salt & Light Jesus calls us to become.