I watched The Hunchback of notre dame with my kids a while ago, one line which stood out was when Esmerelda (the gypsy woman) sang her song asking “God help the Outcasts!”, what struck me is how the “church” in general is rubbish at helping the “outcasts”. In Luke 4:18 Jesus read the passage from Isaiah which says:-
“The Spirit of the Almighty Lord is with me because the Lord has anointed me to deliver good news to humble people. He has sent me to heal those who are brokenhearted, to announce that captives will be set free and prisoners will be released. He has sent me to announce the year of the Lord’s good will and the day of our God’s vengeance, to comfort all those who grieve. He has sent me to provide for all those who grieve in Zion, to give them crowns instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of tears of grief, and clothes of praise instead of a spirit of weakness.”
We have that same spirit within us, and there is a well known hymn which says such! Yet when it comes to helping the poor, those in “prison”, those “oppressed”, those who are grieving, those in need, we fail to be “Christ-like”! I am not saying it is easy though, unfortunately the “world” we find ourselves is corrupt! We have to be careful, putting procedures/protocols/policies in place so that we do not find ourselves in a sticky situation where we can be wrongly accused or allow something to happen that is preventable!
But does the “church” unintentionally create “outcasts“? Most churches that I have been in/to are very welcoming to new people but at some point people are scared off, either because the “welcome” they receive is over the top and they feel that they are being “grilled”, or once they get into a conversation and they inform the other person of something, they suddenly feel that they are being judged!
There needs to be a balance however, which needs to be found in the following situations:-
- making a “seeker friendly” church/church service may seem a great idea but how much theology do you put “on the shelf” out of sight so that people are attracted to your congregation?
- if people leave due to changes in leadership/worship styles, do you examine your church or ignore the problem, attributing any fault to those leaving?
- if you have friends in a church, and then you/they leave should you try to keep a relationship or let that relationship wither and be discarded?
- If you hear on the “church grapevine” (otherwise known as gossip!) that someone is struggling with something, do you immediately tell the church leader or offer to help them yourself?
I have heard and seen some absolutely bizarre things in the past! Things that I am sure make Jesus cringe!
- Churches “passing the buck” with helping a homeless person and directing them to another church!
- Church leaders ceasing a weekly pre-service prayer meeting, saying “it isn’t necessary!”
- One church leader telling another that they only have 5 minutes to chat to a homeless person as they are meant to be having another meeting!
I have noticed, however that it is far too easy to fall asleep in church services, especially when you are tired (not sure that was what Jesus meant when he said “come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest!“) Maybe that was why wooden pews were so popular in churches! If you get too comfortable being a “pew-filler” and just using the church as a “rest-stop” for your busy life, then I believe that you may have missed the point of going!
I have heard it said that “we should not be so obsessed with getting people into church, but we should be more concerned with reaching the “unchurched” where they are!” Jesus’s disciples would have not been sitting in any church where they were not being challenged to get out into the world! Jesus would have told them to wake up! The great commission is “Go INTO the WORLD, and make disciples of ALL PEOPLE” If we are constantly INSIDE our homes or church buildings, not OUTSIDE where we can be “salt and light”, what is our faith all about? How can we affect the world around us for good?
When we get to heaven, I know that we will be judged and that if we have confessed that Jesus is our “lord and Saviour” & been baptised, then we will have him as our “attorney” against all the claims of our sinful behaviour that the devil has built a library of information on! So in some senses, providing we don’t start worshipping Satan himself, and we actually try to do the best we can to follow Jesus, our past is somewhat irrelevant. But I am curious as to whether God will say “Did you ever read Hebrews 13? I sent angels and there were so many people who you could have helped! But you didn’t, why was that?”
Will he accept the following answers?:-
- I was too scared!
- I felt uncomfortable!
- I was too busy!
- It wasn’t my gifting!
- I wasn’t “called” to!
- It wasn’t my ministry!
What’s your excuse? Remember “Fence-sitting” is painful and if you don’t move often enough you get sore(s)!