Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Like-Minded People

I have never walked out of a church service, but I did come close to throwing up in one for similar reasons. (Later that week I discovered D1 was on the way, which probably affected why my distaste took that particular form.)

What's sad and funny is the number of people who replied to that post saying in effect, "We're people like you, come see us!" or, "We want to reach out to people like you, what can we do?"

Which is exactly not the point.

It's an icky feeling to walk into a church and find yourself pegged as a target demographic. Young professionals, married with children. Check. Let's plug you in! Like a toaster. I am not a toaster.

I suspect a lot of people grew up despising their parents' strict and legalistic churches and so determined to be different anyway they could figure out. But cooler-than-thou is no closer to the gospel than holier-than-thou.

When we were first hunting for churches we also despaired that we would ever find a church that was just about being a church. Where the sermons would be about the Bible, not about either How Everyone Else Is Evil or Self-Help With Jesus. Where we would not settle into a comfy little spot with people just like us.

The thing that attracted us to our church was that it was full of people who were not like us. And not because they are busy trying to be cool and relevant. Nor because the church is trying to "reach out" to a particular demographic, but because they treat anyone who walks in the door as a person, not a statistic.

That's not always comfortable. Sometimes I wish for a larger buffer of People Like Me between me and the old ladies with (untested!) strong child-rearing opinions, or the random character who seems to be missing a few hymnals from his pew. Sometimes I am not charitable at all.

But I wouldn't even have a chance to learn in a church--or a ministry group--full of people like me. I still gravitate towards people of similar age, education level, and outlook, but fortunately there are few enough that I don't really have the option of staying there. I have to learn to connect with people with whom I have nothing in common except living in the same town and knowing Jesus.

Whether the church at large can be more like that, I don't know. I doubt you can do it in a big church. Anytime you get a large enough group of people freely associating, they start forming cliques. They may be diverse in their outward appearance, but they are always very much alike in outlook. (On the internet this can be even worse. People start identifying themselves based on things like their diapering style.)

It's only in accidents like families and neighborhoods that you can be forced into relationships with people you wouldn't naturally like very much. And so I suspect it's only in rather random small neighborhood churches that you can really see the kind of love that Jesus said would characterize his disciples.

Whatever it is, it can't be done by trying too hard. There's no book to be read or program to follow. Like homemade soup, as soon as you start packaging and selling it, it stops being homemade.

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