Not only do we need to make seismic shifts to move our personal lives from us to them but we also need to do this in the church. Entire congregations can function in a way that says, “We are here for us. Everyone else stay away.” Or they can establish patterns that show warmth and an inviting spirit that says, “everyone is welcome!” church in Texas has the motto, “NO perfect people allowed!” This is their way of saying “Yes, you are welcome.”
Every church needs to take an honest look at how they function and discover if there are patterns that are counterproductive to reaching out to those who are not yet part of the family. I can still remember a decisive moment when I came on staff at a church which had some unhealthy patterns in how they viewed their facility. The first week of work, someone told me there was a coffee break in the mid-morning and that I should drop in. I am not a big coffee drinker, but when I got there, I discovered they also served delicious cookies, so I hung around for a while. I chatted with the staff members for a bit, and then everyone got up, with some kind of unspoken awareness that break time was over, and headed back to their desks. As I walked out of the room, I wadded up my napkin, which was filled with bits of cookie rubble, and tossed it into the trash can by the door. I make the shot from a good ten feet away, so I was quietly reveling in my fine trash-can basketball skills.
As I was walking out the door, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was another leader in the church, and he had a look of concern on his face. “What’s up?” I inquired. With awkward reluctance, he whispered, as if a little embarrassed, “We don’t use the trash cans during the week. The custodians like us to carry our trash back to our offices and use the trash cans in the building only on Sundays and Wednesday nights.”
I looked at him with amusement because I thought he was joking. But when I looked into the trash can, I knew he was serious. There at my feet was the cleanest plastic trash can I had ever seen. Either it had rarely been used or someone scrubbed it regularly. It looked up and screamed, “Don’t throw trash in me!” At the bottom of this spotless can were two items. First, I saw a paper towel that had been neatly folded and set squarely in the bottom of the can. I have no idea what purpose this thin buffer served, but I would soon learn that a folded paper towel was placed in the bottom of all the trash cans in the church classrooms. Second, I saw the cause of this whole uncomfortable confrontation: the heinous wad of paper filled with dirty little bits of cookie.
I stood there looking at the sparkling trash can and the wadded-up napkin. An awkward silence hung in the air. I had to make a decision. So I said, “I’m leaving the napkin where it is.” The other staff member looked at me like I had just told him that I eat kittens for breakfast. Then he did something that shocked me. He bent over to remove the solitary piece of trash from the forbidden zone.
I swallowed hard and said, “Please don’t.” I explained that there is a fundamental problem when you can’t use the trash cans for trash. I am not sure he understood what I meant, but he agreed to leave the napkin where it was an assured me that I would be called into account for my defiance. I promised him I was up to the task, and we both walked away.
That day I was reminded of the powerful temptation to forget that we exist not to build nice structures, protect our way of life, or keep the trash cans clean but to share the best news ever with the people in our community and around the world. The church should never be just about us. Jesus left the glory of heaven, took on human flesh, suffered on the cross, died, and rose again. He did all of this to make a way for lost and sinful people to come back home to their heavenly Father. He calls us to care so much about people that we will pray, work, and sacrifice so others can hear the same amazing news that has changed our lives. It is time to make the seismic shift from us to them.
| | | | | Seismic Shift Suggestion | | | | |
A Welcoming Church. Take a walk through your church building and across the grounds. Try to look at things as if you were a first-time visitor. Imagine you knew nothing about faith, the location of the nursery, or religious language. Could you find your way around the campus? Could you find your way through a church service without feeling out of place? If you think of any ideas that will make your church more inviting to visitors, pass it on to a staff member. If you are willing to help make this change, let them know they can call on you.
*From Seismic Shifts: The Little Changes that make a Big Difference in Your Life (Zondervan) by Kevin G. Harney.
Rev. Dr. Kevin G. Harney is the Co-founder and Visionary Leader of Organic Outreach International. He also serves as the Lead Pastor of Shoreline Church in Monterey, California.