I got a letter this week from my great-Uncle Alvin. I decided to share it with you. Now I warn you, Uncle Alvin is known for being a teller of tall tales. I suppose it started when he came home from fighting in WWI, and told all his exciting war stories. I never could decide when he was telling the truth and when he was pulling my leg.
Dear Dewayne, (My middle name, used by my family)
I had to write you to tell what happened at the Goodwill Methodist Church, over yonder by the Indian Reservation. You know that church used to be a big strong church, but through the years all the young folks moved away to get better jobs. The church had just about dried up, except on homecoming Sunday.
It’s kind of funny how things work out. Lots of people have moved to this neck of the woods in recent years. The reservation has built two casinos and a whole passel of new factories. They’ve brong in people from all over, to help run them. Even some of them Japanese fellers.
But ole brother Zeke Townsend, the church lay leader, said these new folks ain’t “our kine.” “Folks from the North still got it in for us,” he said. “And those Japs killed my boy. If they set foot on this here church property it will be over my dead body.”
Well, don’t you know, they buried ole Zeke last month out back of the church. And last week the little group of folks left over there decided they just couldn’t make ends meet without him, so they voted to close the church. I hear tell that they may sell the property to the reservation so they can build another casino. I guess folks may come over ole Zeke’s dead body after all!
Come to see us when you can.
Your Uncle Alvin
I’m pulling your leg, but hoping to make you think about the homogeneity of most churches. Look around your church this Sunday. How much diversity do you see? Is your church effectively reaching all ages? All economic and ethic groups? Are there folks in your community who don’t feel comfortable in your church? What’s wrong with this picture? Or, are we willing to even admit that there is something wrong? What do we need to change in order for others to feel comfortable in our church and want to be a part of our fellowship? Does Jesus really expect the “local church” to be inclusive?
I don’t know the full answer to all of these questions. But after many years of trying to get people to attend my programs, I’m convinced that we have to go to them, not expect everyone to come to us. We have to be the bridge-builders. If we are going to overcome our differences, we have to meet them on their ground and develop relationships that demonstrate God’s love. We need to be an expeditionary force, not a fortress. We need to get out of our safe enclave where we act like a social club and get involved in the lives of the hurting.
The sad truth is that most of us don’t even know how to begin. We have been gathering all our lives inside the fortress where it’s safe. Most of us actually want to make a difference for the Kingdom but we are stuck in a rut and don’t know out to get out. The even sadder truth is that most of us don’t recognize our condition.
Good things happen in our churches. And we should celebrate them. But God wants us to see how much more we could accomplish if we only caught His vision of a church reaching out and touching the lives of those outside our walls.