I shall confess…. I am a misfit.
I have never really fitted in with the church scene.
Don’t misunderstand me, this is not going to be one of those disgruntled with the church blogger type rants (at least I hope not).
I love the church!
When I read the Bible I find a picture of the church made in the image of our God. A church that reflects the character and the mission of our God. I read about a God who loves the unlovable; who shows grace to the undeserving, mercy to the merciless, who sends rain on the just and the unjust. I read the story of the King who used his power not to crush us or serve his own ambitions but to rescue us, to restore us and to give us new life and new birth into a living hope.
The church is not perfect but we are right now a foretaste of what God is at work doing. His Kingdom has now broken in and is at work saving and restoring a people, where the good and gracious reign of King Jesus can be seen. We are now a foretaste of God’s restored humanity. In the church we find a taste of what it means to be truly human… again.
In the Scriptures I find a picture of church far beyond my experience.
I find myself frustrated wishing it would be so much more. It could be so much more. It should be so much more.
Mostly I wish we were more radical in our love for lost people…
I am fully convinced that God does and can and will continue to use the contemporary/ traditional/mainstream (choose the most appropriate and least offensive description) church to preach the gospel, care for the broken, disciple believers, and reach the lost. I, for one, am a testimony to this.
Honestly I think that there are some great churches within easy driving (or walking) distance of where I live. They are reaching people and will continue to do so. But in all honesty, many of them are reaching the same kind of people. Even if they have a diversity of membership it is still largely a similar kind of diversity.
In a country as diverse as South Africa, and in a city as diverse as Cape Town we need to continually be thinking through our methodology and our church culture, asking ourselves – who are we reaching? And perhaps more significantly who are we not reaching?
The answer of course is not to be all things to all men in one structure. What we need are scattered communities of light willing to get into the nooks and crannies of our society, adopting the rhythms, and shape of their lives, meeting them on their terms and on their turf. Engaging them with the gospel of Jesus Christ, in word and in deed. And demonstrating through the shared life of the gospel community that it is good to live under the reign of King Jesus.
I suspect am a misfit because I did not grow up in a Christian family or breathing the unusual air of the pervasive Christian culture. I got saved in a culture of mission and I was discipled in a culture of mission. I admit I got lost in the whole church culture scene for a bit. But through some really tough circumstances I ended up out of the church culture for a bit. And I realised that I never want to go back…
Like I said I love the church and I love so many people who are part of the contemporary church scene. Some of them are doing some amazing thing and some of them are being used by God to do amazing things. But we have slowly (read kicking and screaming) made peace with the fact that God has called us to a different path. A path for misfits. I struggle to put words to it but somehow I have always gravitated to those on the fringes; the doubters, the strugglers, the broken, the sceptics.
For as long as I can remember I have always had a burden to reach those who are not being reached by others. I can clearly remember on Scripture Union camps asking for the “difficult” kids to be in my group and volunteering to be on duty to “baby-sit” the smokers because I knew it was most likely that most of these kids were not Christians. At one church I worked at as a youth pastor I remember another youth pastor telling me that my kids scared him a bit… I’m still not really sure what that was all about?
But something within me has always come alive when faced with those others deem too difficult, too broken, too lost. When I was a 19-year-old rookie camp leader, a man I greatly admired looked at me across the table one meal time and said, “John, God is going to use you to reach people the rest of us can only dream of reaching!”
Honestly, I never believed him. But as I look back over 15 plus years I can see unlooked-for echoes of those words throughout my life. I still don’t really know if I believe him but I now know I want it to be true.
And finally I think I am starting to be at peace with the unorthodox shape of our ministry. Finally I realise that sometimes it is a blessing to feel more alive outside with the smokers than inside singing with the saints. Sometimes God uses misfits too…