One specific adjusment for churches
There’s an adjustment in our future. I know, that’s kind of like saying the sun will rise tomorrow. When it comes to church, adjustments are constant and never-ending. But I’ve been thinking about one particular change. I know most, if not all, of our churches have worked on this specific adjustment at one point or another. Some have made it a priority. Some churches have had great success, others less. Before I explain this adjustment that I’m alluding to, I’m going to make a few generalized observations.
Generalizing is risky. Something might be generally true, but not necessarily true. I don’t make this general observation with complete knowledge of every church, and I certainly could be wrong.
It’s my observation that we Christians have created environments in our churches that are most conducive to righteous people. I’m not entirely sure how or necessarily why we did this. I am sure it wasn’t intended. Well, at least in part, it wasn’t intended. Here’s what I think we did intend. We believed that following Jesus in the context of the church would produce growing disciples. And one way we marked a growing disciple was by their behaviour. Right behaviour became the litmus test for a growing Christian. Over time, showing the right behaviour and hiding bad behaviour became the reality that many of us experience in our churches.
Our pastors and leaders have faced the brunt of this culture. None of this was for a silly reason, we have a Biblical understanding that fuelled our culture. Paul, in his first letter to Timothy, talked about what a pastor and elder needed to look like. Without fault, sober, modest, honest, hospitable, gentle, peaceable, generous, good parents, humble, reputable. You know, perfect. And somewhere along the way, we decided that not just our leaders should be held to this standard, but rather that every person should be pressed into this mould. Or at least look like they fit the mould.
Maybe you’ve had a similar experience in church life, perhaps you’ve had a very different one. Indulge one more generalized observation. Due to the landscape I’ve described above, we Christians have been receptive to sinners. Well, we’ve been receptive to one kind of sinner. We welcome and invite the person who realizes their sin, repents of their sin, and walks away from their sin in a reasonable amount of time. You’d be right to observe that this seems problematic, but the challenge goes deeper. We care about some sin more than others. In my observation, we ignore a lot and pay attention to a little.
Here’s what I mean. I’m rarely hungry. I used to think it was a nice feeling to be hungry; it created anticipation for food. But that rarely happens anymore. I have so much, I don’t need anything, and I think I indulge too often. Why do I ignore that this might be sin? I enjoy Star Wars and superhero movies. There’s a significant amount of violence in this form of entertainment. And yet it doesn’t even register that the violence depicted might work counter to the teaching of Jesus. Is that sin? My honest answer is that I don’t know. I’m not certain. I think there are a lot of pretty indulgent dynamics in our day to day lives that we simply skip over, don’t consider and certainly don’t think are sin. Maybe because they are part of our lives, and we don’t want to let them go?
And then there’s the sin that seems so easily identifiable as sin, probably because we see it in another person. Greedy people aren’t too hard to spot unless it’s me. Thieves, not too many of us, feel bad about a thief getting what they deserve. Our home was recently the subject of a break-in. It happened in the night while we were sleeping. Three men were caught on tape, wandering our neighbourhood, and they entered our home. What do I think of such people? What do you think? What do I think about the police officer who came to investigate? Do I think she is a sinner because of her choice to engage in violence? I know I’m thankful for her attention to our vulnerability. What about people who have convictions that differ from mine? Must they come over to my way of understanding to remove the sin in their lives? I don’t presume to know the right answers to these questions.
Here is something of which I am convinced. The church must be for sinners. In a significant irony, the church has always been for sinners, because that’s who I am. And this is the adjustment I am convinced we need to make. It must be possible for sinners to be included and cared for in our churches. Even if they don’t know their sin. Because I sure don’t know some of my sins. Now someone will immediately be concerned that I’m suggesting some sort of positional adjustment. Not at all! I don’t think we need to make a theological adjustment. Our confession is a shared conviction on which we can stand and remain confident. I believe we need an ecclesiological adjustment for a missiological purpose. We need to adjust our church practice so that sinners can be baptized and become disciples. Because Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and I am the biggest sinner of all.
I could stop there, and maybe I should, but I won’t. I can hear the objection. Shouldn’t believers who follow Jesus recognize their sin and walk away from it? Isn’t righteous living an outcome of a Jesus follower? Yes, I think so. But I’m concerned that we lack patience with the Holy Spirit. I’m worried that we might not always be as right as we believe we are.
I was recently reminded of the story Jesus told about weeds. For the sake of Jesus’ story in Matthew 13, the weeds are those among us who reject Jesus. My understanding of Jesus’ teaching here is that it’s not our job to root these folks out. That’s His job. I’m concerned about our ability to effectively accomplish a task that Jesus reserves for angels. You might have a different understanding, I could be wrong.
I am certain of this. I don’t know how to make this adjustment. But I think you do. I believe that God has equipped the people of MBCM to adjust our church experiences so that every human is welcomed, cared for, included and invited to the person of Jesus. So let’s pray and listen. Let’s talk to each other and learn. Let’s try things and survive a failure now and then. Let’s love Jesus and trust the Holy Spirit. You are God’s people, and I’m privileged to be a part.
Jason Dyck – Director of Church Ministries