Julio is a young guy that has been using our gym on Tuesday nights for pick-up basketball. Let me first say that he's a good guy. So nice, in fact, that the game has blown up from the original ten or twelve ballers to over twenty gym rats. The place is so busy on Tuesday nights that you're lucky if you can get on the court for one game out of every three.
In an effort to reign in the eager hoopsters, Julio posted this sign on the front door last week:One of our elders saw the sign shortly after is was taped to the front door and freaked out (rightfully so, by the way). We stress, over and over, that South is a "place for you." We are inclusive not exclusive. For Julio - who doesn't attend our church - it was an honest mistake.
Yet I've been around many churches and many Christians that have exactly this attitude. Church starts growing. New people start coming. The "establishment" begins to realize they might lose control and they freak out. (Sound familiar Fred?) Maybe they don't post signs on the door, but it is made clear in other, not uncertain ways, that "If you don't know me and I don't know you, you are not welcome."
My friend, Terry, was fired from a church in Kentucky for this very reason. The church grew. "Our people" were threatened by "those people." Undesirables (read, "sinners") began coming to church bringing their habits and heartaches right along with them. Solution - fire the preacher. My buddy Mike went through the same thing. He started inviting skateboarders to church. Kids with more ink than a Kinko's starting mixing with the Bible Bowl crowd and Mike's phone began to ring. Parents were concerned that their "good kids" might become "infected." (Perhaps because they were never properly inoculated?) When over 100 such kids started showing up on Sunday nights, it was time for Mike to go. Bye bye, Mike. Oh, and bye bye youth group. And, I suspect, bye bye to a generation of kids in that town who have one more reason to hate the church.
The thing is, these churches usually get exactly what they want. A small, close-knit group of believers that know each other, and each others' business. Forty people who come together on Sunday morning and play church the way you and I used to play house with our siblings and neighbors in the yard barn out behind the grape arbor. People stay away and the church slowly atrophies. The building becomes an antique mall and the member or two that has to sign at closing takes some small consolation in knowing that the money realized from the sale of the building went to help the church camp or the Bible college.
There is that problem of the great commission being ignored. There is the little thing about Acts 1:8 being overlooked. "Go ye into all the world." Fine so long as the world don't come in here. "You will be my witnesses in all Jerusalem." As long as the Jerusalemites don't have different color skin or funny hair or tattoos or, or, or, or.
I have to talk with Julio tonight. Hopefully I can help him understand that our church has a different understanding. Some have suggested its time to nix the Tuesday night open gym altogether. I wonder, though, if a better plan might be to "plant" some Southies in the gym as covert witnesses of Jesus Christ. Maybe we can do a little guerrilla evangelism once a week.
If that happens, maybe Julio and his crew - none of whom are members here at South - will begin showing up here for something other than ball. Who knows, maybe we'll have to deal with all Julio's guys coming on Sunday morning and sitting in "someone's seat."
Frankly, I can't wait for that to happen.