I had a conversation with someone recently who had considered being active in our church. I would have been THRILLED to have that person’s gifts and real-life experience in the congregation, but it never quite clicked. Then that person told me they appreciated that my church worked with people with addictions and unsheltered folks, but because we were meeting those needs (and we’re a TINY church), it was pretty clear that person’s more regular “vital worship and strong Sunday School and youth ministries” needs weren’t going to get met unless our church expanded a whole bunch.
First Christian Church’s slogan is “A Church for All People, because God’s Love is for All People.” And when you include all people, you end up excluding folks.
The “experts” say that people will go to a church of a higher socio-economic makeup than their own, but almost never a lower socio-economic make-up. We’ve obviously got folks in our church that defy that rule, but it means they have to have a higher tolerance for chaos and looseness, because the world that is imposed on poor folks makes for chaos and looseness that we can’t always control. We’re getting a children’s program together, but parents will have to be willing to put their kids in a program with children whose parenting has been different and who have been exposed to different things than their own kids, if that program ends up including children from the neighborhood.
A couple of years ago, I sat up straight in my chair and said to a radical preacher friend of mine whose crazy church was making him crazy, “You know, I used to think it was charming that Jesus said he came not for the well but for the sick. I thought it was a joke on the privileged people who thought they weren’t sick even though they were among the sickest. But d***it, he’s left US with the sick, too, and that’s not what I signed on for.” Because ministry to everybody means loving the brokenness and sometimes drawing the brokenness, because it’s our brokenness that draws us to a community that HAS to love us through our trials and struggles and messiness. It’s why we’re a family, not a membership organization–because you can create membership criteria, but not family criteria.
I’ve watched phenomenal, progressive middle class folks join our congregation because they know what we’re doing is right and good and in keeping with Jesus’ ministry to everyone. And I’ve seen many of them, over time, drift to phenomenal, progressive middle class congregations that have a consistency to them. I mourn the loss of those folks, because they would bring such richness and life to our congregants. (And we do have middle class folks who feel called to be in this congregation, because they know what it means to live on the margins in some other way, and I am grateful for them as I am grateful for every single member of my beautiful flock.) But I acknowledge that because we are trying to be a church for everyone, really everyone, we are not likely to be able to be a church for them.
The reason I was able to have that conversation with the person I mentioned at the beginning of this piece is because when they hit a point of struggle, they didn’t necessarily think I would know what to do or have words of wisdom or help, but they knew I would love them fiercely and pray for them and not judge or be uncomfortable, because no matter what, we know each other and love each other as part of one family. On a good day, that’s what my church is, too. And I don’t think that will be reason enough for my sibling in Christ to join the church, but it reminds me we’re on track. It’s just a hard track on which to be.