Looking around my church, I see people. Lots of people. The more I look around I think of how I don’t know half of them – maybe even over half (but that’s a blog post for another day). I think I recognise that family over there – maybe. Despite feeling like a small fish in a big pond, I love that we are all sat together expectantly, waiting to listen to God’s Word about to be read to us.
But there is something missing. Something is not quite right. Then it hit me.
Where are the others?
Where are the people who haven’t heard God’s Word read? It is hard to keep track of new faces in a big church. But the people who haven’t ever heard God’s Word before are not here.
Where are they?
Someone said to me recently how they thought the church was very middle-class. They were quite new to the church that they went to. There was a nice couple at the church who always came and spoke to her when others were more reluctant to. She liked this couple, but there was something difficult about chatting to a married couple who were no more than 26 years old with two children who had been brought up in church since they were small. She liked them, but how could they ever relate to her? Their backgrounds and personalities were completely different. She had questions they couldn’t answer, so other church members got uncomfortable and treated her less than Jesus would have done.
Have I done that?
Have I treated someone less than Jesus would have done? Do I show partiality and favouritism to people? I think I must do as I stand comfortably amongst the middle-class at the end of the service, who make pleasant conversation and then join their friends, nattering about all sorts. And that makes my heart ache. It is easy to stick with those that are like me. But is that what Jesus did?
My brothers, how no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? (James 2:1-7)
In church, we recognise, acknowledge and repent of our sins and we know that we are sinners saved by God’s amazing grace. But what about those who do not know that they sin, and even when they do sin that there is forgiveness? What about them? Are we building barriers against those who we are meant to be sharing God’s love with? Or should we be reaching out, building bridges and seeing God’s love radically transform the lost and the brokenness in our society?
Where are the others?
They are outside of the church building walls. Maybe they are at home feeling insecure or hurt about someone or something. Perhaps they slept rough on the street last night and haven’t had a good meal in days. Could they be the drug addict who fell victim to abuse? Maybe they are feeling guilty as they try and balance a food or alcohol addiction with supporting their family. Could they be unemployed, dreading the thought of telling a bunch of middle-class church-goers that they were still looking for work for the 8th month in a row? Maybe they are overworked as a full-time mum or dad, or are feeling the crippling pressures of trying to climb the corporate ladder to no avail as they come crashing down. Could they be new to the city but to scared to come to this big church, full of new people with their familiar friendship groups? Maybe they want to explore faith in Jesus but are scared of the repercussions from their culture, their family or perhaps leaving behind their previous beliefs or convictions.
Perhaps I have missed them completely – I don’t know who they are or what their story is. But God does.
The others are not here in church with us because we are not tearing down the barriers. I do not mean throwing in the towel, abandoning the bible and forgetting the church. I mean we should be the church because we are the church. I write this out of conviction as I am painfully aware that my neighbours may have never heard the good news of Jesus before. It is easier for me to say ‘Hi’ in passing, rather than knock on their door and get to know them and become their friend. It is even harder for some reason to tell them about the hope that I have in Christ that they can have to.
I could be seen as trying to ‘convert’ them. That is my fear talking. But who should I be afraid of? Check out Luke Chapter 12 verses 4-5.
It is not my job to convert them or to convict them. God is more than able. It is out of God’s love for me that I want to love them like Jesus. For the Lord told us to ‘love our neighbour as ourselves’ after all!
It is not easy in a world that would rather live to please itself, rather than serve others as Christ served and loved them. It is counter-cultural to believe in God here in the UK and it is going to get harder to be a Christian in the years to come. The message of God’s love and forgiveness for all people through Jesus Christ is getting harder to share with others. Thus, all the more reason to share it now.
Love Them Like Jesus
We need to love all people like Jesus. That does not mean we ignore the word ‘repent’. It is easy to pick the faults of someone else, but remember we are all sinful and it is not our place to judge anyone. Nonetheless, Jesus said this:
“Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:11)
Jesus does not condemn us, but he tells us to go and sin no more. We are to turn from our sin with God’s help when we place our trust in Him. That does not mean we do not slip up and no longer sin. It is a lifelong struggle between our human desires and God’s truth.
However, there is still a need for genuine repentance. Not just a simple, empty ‘sorry’, but a heart-felt need to be before the Lord and to feel genuinely sorry and self-reproachful, not just for the sin, but for the Saviour who bled and died for the sins of all. We need to go deeper and realise how much we are loved by Jesus that He died for us. That should be the turning point for the others. No matter where they are in life, what they have done, or who they think that they are, there is hope in Jesus who died for their sins and who loves them unconditionally.
So what are we waiting for?
Let’s get out of the church building, into the community and start showing God’s love to our neighbours (whoever they are – even if they don’t live next door). Let’s be bold in who we speak to, knowing that it is God that gives us the words to speak. We need to bring God’s Word to the others who have no intention of ever stepping foot inside a big (or small), middle-class congregation.
The organ may be played, but who will hear it? The Bible may be read, but who will receive it? The prayers may be said, but who will join in with the honest ‘Amen’? The tea and coffee may be poured, but who will enjoy it? The pews may be cushioned, but who will feel welcomed enough to sit long enough? The stained glass windows may shine in their majesty, but what about the King of Glory in all of His majesty shining out to the souls of the nations?
Let us go and love them like Jesus.