Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Church--Who's Missing?


 Working out—trying to keep my mind off my pain—I listen to NPR. I heard a wise woman interviewed say: “When it comes to church I want to ask: ‘Who’s missing?’”  Ouch. That hurts. As I look around at my church and the churches I served for over 40 years I've been thinking about who was missing.

Who’s missing?

The Poor. You won’t find many of them in church. They don’t have the right clothes. Maybe they feel uncomfortable with those kind of people. When the offering plate is passed  they would be tempted to take something out instead of put something in. They don’t—but they have little or nothing monetarily to give. They don’t feel like they would be welcomed—even though they would be in many churches. But they would squirm when some well-heeled Pastor with moussed hair talks about his success, his trip to England, his speedboat, his high school graduate who cried when he wouldn’t buy her a new car for graduation.  Just something used.

The Broken. Most of the broken ones stay away. They would look around at all those happy 
families, sitting there in their finery, smiling like they don’t have a care in the world, and they would feel like they had landed on Mars. Life has dealt them a bad hand. One of their children is in jail. They sure don’t want anyone asking: “Where’s Mary?” Often they finger their food stamps at the Grocery store hoping nobody would see them. After the divorce when he left her and the children with nothing—she was desperate. Sam doesn’t come because he has panic attacks and he wouldn’t sit there without breaking into a cold sweat. Some don’t come because if they looked around at their once-high-school-buddies that had made it—they couldn’t stand it. They feel like they were on the wrong side of the stained glass windows.

The Doubters. Why go to a place where the music is jazzy and everybody seems to believe all that stuff?The doubters just aren’t sure. Some had a bad experience in church—some preacher or staff member gave them a hard time or simply ignored them.  They don’t believe every word of the Bible is true. They wonder if all those other folk around the world: the Muslims, the Buddhists, the Hindus—and all those others—are they all left out? They wonder. If God is good why all the pain and suffering in the world ?

The Not-So-White. Some are undocumented immigrants. Some can’t even get a driver’s license and live in fear they will be deported at any time. Some find English hard to understand. Some feel like they would not fit in. They feel like strangers just about everywhere. Far from home—homesick and often desperate—they don’t think the Anglos would understand. They have heard some Catholic churches welcome people like them—but they wonder if it is true.

The Addicted. Sometimes it’s drugs that got hold of them or one of their children. Sometimes it’s another addiction—alcohol or hoarding or something else. These are the desperate. Some have landed in jail. Some have had their pictures in the paper. Some live under a dark cloud of self-hatred. What church would really want a loser like they think they are?

The Young. Look around you. Most of the faces are older. My buddy described his church: “Rows and rows of grey hairs.” Not many High School or College kids. Some go to the with-it place down the street with strobe lights and a preacher that calls them: “Dude.” Most just don’t go. It seems downright boring. Why go to a place and talk about heaven and hell and stuff like that?  Most sleep in.

The Headline Worriers. These are the Letters-to-the Editor types who write, again and again, that the sky is falling. That the president is an imposter—that if we could just go back to the golden days of Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton or anybody but who holds the office today. They desperately need a sense of history—to dust off the old black book their mama gave them when they were eleven years old. They need a word from the Lord—desperately. But they are starving. Wonder how we can reach them?

blue velcro / flickr
The Gays.  Of course we will find a smattering of closeted ones. Maybe a few that grew up in the church and everybody knows. But most gays wouldn’t be found in church on any Sunday. They’ve heard the judgment, the old Leviticus texts—they know by heart those sermons that broke their hearts when they were hanging on by their fingernails and trying to just be. In Youth groups--they are afraid somebody will find out they are different. They get laughed at a lot. They are not there.

The Blacks. Look around—it mostly a white outfit. Years ago somebody said that Church worship was the most segregated hour of the week. And it still is. Once in a while when some black family wander in we swoop down on them and are so nice it makes them nervous. They just want to be treated like everybody else. Reckon this will ever change?

We send money over there. Or we pack our suitcases and head for some mission trip for a week. And   back home—here--on Sunday—look around you—who’s missing? This is our primary mission field. Not that we ignore all those others—but let’s put love at long distance on the back burner and reach out to all those who need but do not feel welcomed in most of our churches.

It’s a tall order—but it has always been a challenge and a seemingly impossible reach. But the book really does say: “Come ye...all ye...and I will give you rest.”

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

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