For most of my life, people wanted what they had always gotten from the church. They wanted a safe place to be present; a place to pray; a place their kids could learn and grow in the faith. Most of them also wanted a place where they would be affirmed in who they were and how they lived. No challenge to our way of life. No pushing to do more or change or question the way things were. All of this began to change in the 1960’s, and the church hasn’t responded well.
When I asked this question yesterday, it was my personal response to the question that I focused on. I want the church to be less petty. Everyone has their own wish – I am pretty sure that every one of you has at least one thing you want from the church that you aren’t getting, and I would love to know what that is. The mass exodus from church over the last 50 years should tell us that people aren’t getting what they need, or are finding it elsewhere. Some of those things are, frankly, immature wants. Many, however, are real needs that are not being met.
The biggest response I get from people is that they want a church that helps people in need. Those needs might be physical, or they might be spiritual. Doing local mission is hard work, because it confronts the inequities of our culture in a place that is very close to home. Doing local missions also leads to a lot of judgment. I can’t tell you how many times I have been challenged by church members over whether or not the people we are helping really “deserve” the help we are giving them. As if that bag of food and that $20 Wawa card are so precious that we need proof of the receiver’s desperation and true poverty! Yes, there are people who are trying to scam us, but my experience is that they are rare.
Local mission is more than just band-aids; it is using our faith to challenge the way our world is run. This means, on occasion, confronting the powers and principalities in the way they govern. This means entering the world of politics to speak truth to power. This is also, for many people, a bridge too far (unless it’s a political point of view they agree with), and I must admit that it makes me uneasy as well. My lack of comfort doesn’t mean that it’s wrong; it just means that the Holy Spirit may be pushing me in a direction I am afraid of.
I want the church to tell the truth with love, and to be faithful enough to weather the storms of discontent that this kind of truth-telling brings. I want the church to spend less effort on its own comfort and more on improving the lives of people in need. I want the church to live up to its commitment to follow Jesus into the spiritual battle that needs our devotion. Many of us are doing this, be we need more to join us. What do you want from the church? Let me know.
Prayer – Teach us the difference between our wants and others’ needs, merciful God, so that our work might be Your work. Amen.
Today’s art is from the Mission District in San Francisco. It is part of cultural travel program called “Live Recklessly”.