A Safe Place
In a former church, I helped launch ministries and worship that were designed to attract unchurched and de-churched people.
Most of the newcomers were young, and some were covered in tattoos and piercings. There were a couple of single moms, a young man who had just come out as gay to his family, more than a few skeptics, and a smattering of recovering alcoholics.
It didn't take long for some of the existing church members to begin complaining about the kinds of people who were showing up on our church campus.
Finally, after a few weeks of listening to their various gripes, I told them that they needed to get over themselves and that the church was a hospital and not a country club.
They got offended. Some of them wrote me nasty emails. One of them came to my office to harangue me about how our ministries and worship were "ruining the church."
I was angry, I felt they should have been offended by the way they said one thing and did another--at how they claimed to be followers of Jesus, but actually kept others from really seeing him.
The truth is, I do the same kind of thing all of the time. It's hard to be in a relationship with people who are different, who challenge our status quo. Just like most church-going, Christian-y folks, I often prefer my comfort over the challenging relationships Jesus is leading me to build.
In his book Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning tells this parable:
It seems that there was a young man who had sinned so much that the church excommunicated him, and cast him out. He was told that he was never welcomed there again. He wanted to return and repented of what he'd done but could find no healing.
So he finally found his way to Jesus. "Lord," he told Jesus, "they won't let me in because I am a sinner." To which Jesus replied, "What are you complaining about? They won't let me in either."
We all need to own this: The church has not been the most hospitable place for broken and hurting people.
However, if those of us who make up the church are going to be the kinds of people Jesus dreams for us to be, we are going to have change. We will never be a safe place for the hurting if what we do is different than what we say we believe.
Practice being a safe place for someone to land today. Make yourself available to share someone's journey---someone who might challenge your status quo. Open yourself up to the possibility that you might very well be the way for someone to find the courage to begin stumbling after Jesus with you.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.