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February 4, 2014, 11:34 AM

Getting Messy


I’m a fan of “messy” churches.

I don’t mean that they have to be slovenly to suit me.  But, I would rather have a church that is a little frayed around the edges because it is getting lots of use, than to have one that is neat, tidy, and usually empty.

At one church I served, we had a pre-school program which made use of our basement.  A sizable faction of church members (none of whom had young children) complained constantly and bitterly about “the mess” and the inconvenience of having to accommodate this program.  Actually, the workers did a good job of cleaning up after themselves, but the place wasn’t as pristine as when there were no children in it during the week.

These same people complained about “strangers” invading their space.  The kids didn’t come from families who attended their church.  But, I noted that not a single one of the complainers ever made any effort to get to know those children or their parents, or to show them anything approximating hospitality.  In fact, at times, they were downright rude.  They certainly never invited them to be part of the church.

Now, not everyone was inhospitable to them.  But those who were, left such a sour impression, that the people who were involved with the pre-school never set foot in that church, once the school year was over.

I couldn’t blame them.  To be honest, after what I witnessed, I didn’t want to be there, either!

Of course, these same people worried and fretted over the fact that their tiny church was growing steadily older and tinier.  They kept saying they wanted, “new blood.”  But they wanted it to flow in the same old veins.  They were unwilling to make any real changes to their routines or accept the messiness that would come with new and different people.

If our church wishes to grow…and more importantly, if we wish to share the Good News of God’s love…we are going to have to get messy.  We are going to need to reach out and welcome people who are in distress and crisis, and who are often “high-maintenance.”

Evangelism is NOT primarily about parking more butts in our pews.  It is about helping people experience the grace of God in the times when they most need it.  That means reaching people who are “strangers” to us and often to the Gospel.  It means reaching outside the walls of a place many of them regard as alien, and possibly hostile, territory.

They often consider it hostile because they don’t fit the stereotypes both they…and too many Christians…have about who really belongs and is welcome in church.

This is not easy work.  But Jesus didn’t say it would be.  He just noted that, like a doctor, he didn’t come for the well, but for the sick and struggling.

As we think and pray about what it means to be followers of Jesus, I hope we will realize that it is a messy enterprise, and that we will accept that inescapable fact, so that we will be open to the very people for whom he came, in the first place.

I submit that a messy church is one which has truly answered the call of Christ.


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