Ah, Sam. If today, you’re sitting in a church meeting with itchy feet and a fire in your belly, wondering when the agenda will get around to the shelter for homeless people around the corner, then hold onto your hat. Keep attending to that fire in your belly, keep listening out for Jesus’ call, and you, my friend, are on the way to an unpredictable adventure.
Sam wrote here that one of the reasons he saw millennials in the USA leaving the church is that “helping the poor isn’t a priority”. Ouch. If we, as churches, find ourselves investing more in our own comfort than we do looking outwards and having our hearts broken by injustice, then Sam’s right – we need a wake-up call. Not just millennials, but people of every generation will walk away because we’ll be obscuring, not revealing, who Christ is to the world. The feet of Isaiah the prophet were itchy, too. With God’s fire in his belly, he railed against acts of worship made without reference to the poor too: “Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:13 and 17).
But I’m not sure I’m seeing the same Church that Sam is. From foodbanks to night shelters, refugee support to debt counselling, I look around and see people in churches stirred into action by the Jesus they meet in the gospels. Often humbly and quietly, I see people making choices for solidarity. Sometimes the choices are big – D & J moved house to invest in the lives of poorer neighbours, R chose a career in which she serves the poorest people in the world, L lives in a dangerous, violence-prone country and teaches people about safe surgery. Sometimes they are daily – S gives sacrificially out of a small salary, B meets with people who are struggling financially, to walk alongside them as they climb out of poverty, S carries around a bag of good food so she can hand it out to people who need it.
I’m struggling with typing the words ‘helping the poor’, because I think the transformation Jesus calls us to is deeper than this. In Jesus, distinctions of ‘rich’ and ‘poor’, ‘helper’ or ‘helped’ break down as lives and goods are shared along with love and friendship. This is not neat problem/easy solution territory. This is long-term, messy and frustrating. But in it, we find fullness of life. Ah Sam – you have no idea of the unexpected and life-changing places God might take you when you follow Him into the mess. Bellowing songs of praise alongside a young woman struggling her way out of living on the streets. Weeping with frustration at the system alongside someone you’ve only just met. Christmas lunch with dozens of people who somehow become family in three hours, in the context of Christmas day, donated food and bad cracker jokes.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that all is well in Church-land. I agree, we often get our priorities mixed up, and get distracted by the same things as everyone else. But that’s why we need you, Sam.
Here are some thoughts about how you might take your God-given heartbreak and put it to work:
- Speak to your church leaders. You might be surprised by how keen they are to hear from you. Ask about others who are saying the same sort of things – meet up for a chat and a pray and see where things go.
- Be the change you want to see. Are you worried that people who struggle with poverty don’t feel welcome in your services? Be the person who leaps across the church to greet visitors with a sunny hello.
- Have a look to see what’s already out there. Concerned about homelessness, or refugees, or child poverty? Check out local charities to see what’s already happening, and start to get involved. Once you’ve got a sense of what’s going on, you’ll be able to see how a church might get involved.
You said you wanted to fall in love with the Church, but I want so much more than that for you. The Church is a mistake-strewn, sin-prone collection of human beings, made glorious by the living, inviting, crucified-and-risen King at its centre. Fix your eyes on Him, rather than on this unexpected bunch of people He calls His bride. You will find yourself following Him into the broken places He wants to heal. You might find, although you don’t expect this at the moment, churches in those places already, but even more certainly, you will find Jesus there. And then, life and soul captivated by him, you will not just fall in love with his Church, you will transform it.