Monday, April 7, 2008

Missionaries and Nice People

I helped a friend move this weekend. I didn't think much of it. I've known him for about 18 years now and even though he lives about 5 hours away, he didn't have much help and I was available. End of thought process.

My oldest daughter requested prayer for my safe return while at church. I'm not sure exactly what happened next (getting detailed information from a 10 year old can be a challenge!), it was made clear to my daughter's Sunday School teacher that my friend was not a "Christian" (I'm assuming that some questions from the teacher brought that tid-bit to light as it's a non-issue in my house). The teacher tells my daughter that her father is "like a missionary". I was put off with that at first. Visions of 50 year old bible thumping white men making bush men & women clothes themselves "in a more befitting manner" were running through my mind. After pondering it for a while though, I was struck by just how accurate my daughter's Sunday School teacher was. I'm not sure she meant to be but if I'm a follower of Christ, I should do what it was he did. He did speak, but more than that; he did. He got in the trenches with the people that needed help. He fed, he washed, he healed, he loved. I hope I'm not over simplifying his message, but that, to me, seems to be the overwhelming theme. Yes, he also told us to "go and make disciples". I struggle with that. I love my "non-Christian" friends. I do things for them, just as I do things for the friends that are Christian. I don't ask for anything in return. I'm not perfect and I'm well aware that my motivations can be less than altruistic even on a good day. BUT, the fact that the church puts such an emphasis on "recruitment" kinda cheapens it for me. If you do it because you're told to, it can still be a good thing. But it's better if you do it because you truly want to or minimally, because you know it needs to get done. Isn't that a better witness than a missionary that goes to a struggling third world country and lives in a gated home with servants? I understand safety issues, I understand that that same missionary may be bolstering the local economy by hiring "staff", but there's something about that that just rubs me the wrong way. On a human level you can relate to anyone. On a practical level, if you're living in luxury while the people you're there to help are in squalor, can they relate to you? Are they looking at God as a way to wealth? A free ride out of the ghetto?

What stands out to me are people who are genuinely nice. I like to think that people who encountered Jesus looked at him as more than a ticket to Heaven and more as a genuinely nice person. That's what drew people to him.

I have a customer that I visited this morning (I'm in sales). Nice couple that I met a few months back. One of those people that you just connect with on more than a professional level. On my first visit I noticed a door closer he had, original to his building, that was both interesting in how it operated but also beautiful to me as a piece of art. As I do often, I complimented him on the piece. So I go back this morning about 6 months later and as I'm leaving he hands me a box. The closer is inside. I didn't even have to look in the box. I knew what it was. I normally argue with people who try to give me gifts or tips. I'm not comfortable taking them in general and don't think it appropriate for a sales person to take something from a paying customer, but I don't think he was just giving me a gift or a tip. He was extending himself to me. The act of stretching out his hands to give the box to me was so symbolic of what he was doing. He took an object of his that he knew would give me joy, and gave it up. It didn't matter to him the value, the object wasn't important at all; the effect it had was all that mattered. It was genuine. What a statement about him. That sticks in my mind. I'll remember that more than I'll remember someone standing up in front of a few hundred people and giving a sermon. That is a witness to me. That makes me want to get to know him more; to understand why he did that.

If we do what Christ did, we jump right into the trenches to help and love people. Helping and loving people doesn't mean you have to "witness" to them. I hope the teacher didn't have that in mind, and it doesn't really matter because my daughter understands that serving is most often more powerful than speaking.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


Is church, as we know it in 21st Century America, necessary? Is it what God intended? Is it the same or even similar to what we see in the New Testament? If not, what should it be?

I'm not a member or attender of a Church but was raised in it (Orthodox Presbyterian). Most things Church get me pretty angry. What I see on TV and what I experienced when I did go and growing up was, to me, disingenuous.

That's pretty harsh and I realize that it's a gross generalization. I've been actively involved in Churches for most of my life up to about 6 months ago when I got frustrated enough to leave. On the surface, they can do a lot of good. But as "deep" as they try to be, I don't think most ever get beneath the surface of their constituents, nor do they want to. It's uncomfortable. It's tough and it leads to disappointments that make most uncomfortable with what they claim God through Jesus is willing and able to do. They bring you in (some to the point they could make millions as recruiters - but wait; they do!)and woo you. They make you feel good about yourself and then put you to work bringing in other people. It's now your job to woo. If you don't woo, there must be a problem. Do you have a problem? Give it to Jesus, he'll help you through it. Wait, Jesus hasn't taken it away yet? You haven't shown any signs of progression or growth? Really? Well, then there must be a problem with you! Maybe there's a problem with your salvation! Maybe you were never saved! You just thought you were but since we no longer see any evidence of your salvation, you must not be. Oh, and the position of authority that you're in, that lead roll you play in anything church, well, you can't do it anymore. What would the general congregation think if someone in a leadership roll...

I think I've made my point. And, so you don't think of me as an embittered person who just experienced the above, I haven't. I've never been asked to leave a Church. I've never been put under Church discipline formal or informal. I have, however, witnessed the nuances of what I outlined in the extreme above, time and time again; to the point where I no longer wanted to be a part of an organization that perpetrates and perpetuates them. To me, that is what the Church does.

So, please, respond with your thoughts. Don't rip me apart as my intention was not to rip the body of the Church apart. If you're a Church goer, I don't look down on you, just question the organization you're a part of. I'm sure there are many Churches that don't do what I described above. The five Churches I've been a part of, however, have all done it in some way shape or form. My goal is not to tear down the body, rather, figure out what that body SHOULD look like. I don't think I have the answers, I just question if the Church as we know it does...