I have long been aware that lots of people feel “unworthy” to have anything to do with church because of their lifestyle, manner of dress, etc. One of our greatest challenges in evangelism is learning how to draw people across the barrier between “holy” and “profane.” When someone says, “Churches and church people make me nervous,” I get it. I know that the challenge for evangelizing that person is for me to put “ordinary clothes” on an extraordinary message. Here in our own congregation we are trying to learn how to do better at being involved with the community around us, looking for ways to have conversations about spiritual things that grow from conversations about everyday things.
Here’s a question, though: How far do we go, how much do we change, in order to attract those “unworthies”? How much of the world’s dirt needs to be smeared on me before that perceived barrier begins to diminish in the eyes of that worldly person? And then, how much of the mud stain will I carry with me?
The prompting for this post came from a news report about a congregation (yes, one of “ours”) that is establishing a “satellite” church in a bar. No, not in a building that formerly was used for drinkin’ and dancin’ and has now been cleaned up and re-purposed. This group will meet late on Sunday morning in a for-real, liquor-serving, fully-licensed bar. The “worship service,” complete with secular music, begins at 11:30 a.m. and the bar opens at 12. On the “parent” church website, anticipated questions have been dealt with in a FAQ sheet where your most pressing question (“will alcohol be present during the worship service?”) is answered in the affirmative.
What’s wrong with this picture? Almost everything. Jesus called for disciples to be in the world but not of the world. Peter told Christians to live such good lives among the “pagans” that they would see their lives and glorify God – even when they actually wanted to run Christians down. Jude told Christians to snatch people from the flames, showing mercy while hating even the garments stained by immoral living. In short, the idea is to draw needy souls away from the world and toward the church, toward a better place to hang out after work and on the weekends.
Do we need to have a conversation with bar-rats? Absolutely – they need to know that God loves them and wants better things for them, too. But… surely we can have our conversations with these folks somewhere besides a bar.