on how we represent God (or how Jesus cares about those outside the church)

jesus cares

I was in ministry for eight years and within the last two years left to go into the non-profit world. When I entered into full-time youth ministry in 2004, I did so as an enthusiastic 25 year-old wanting to make a difference in the life of a teenager. My time in internships and serving as a volunteer helped me realize a calling I had working with adolescents, especially in their spiritual development.

And for the most part, I was able to do what I wanted over my eight years in ministry. I never really had an elder or church member be completely obtrusive (save a couple of isolated incidents) and mostly had great support for what I did. The thing is, I got the sense I was doing a job people appreciated. Teenagers are not the easiest population to serve, and despite the reasons people appreciated me, they usually did.

Yet, it seemed to be the bigger picture and the overall direction of the large organized church that was unsettling. What I saw through numerous leadership meetings and conversations over coffee seemed to be markedly different than what I saw to be important in the ministry of Jesus. This might seem like an arrogant attitude, assuming I know what is important to Jesus, but my heart and conscience told me something wasn’t right.

And, my job here isn’t really to cast stones on the churches I used to work at, but more to explore the tension between what I know about Jesus (which isn’t enough) to what my eyes and ears have taken in about the American church.

Simply put, I see a system where those on the “inside” have it better than those on the “outside”. And, those on the “outside” have no desire to come in.

A majority of teenagers I work with now in support groups want to have some relationship with God, but don’t want anything to do with organized religion. They don’t trust churches or the overall idea of how God is represented by various groups and systems. But, when you ask them simply about Jesus or God the attitude is generally pretty positive.

They just don’t like the people who represent God.

There seems to be more said in scripture about what Jesus did than what he felt. There are only a few times where we get a glimpse of raw emotion from Jesus and typically these feelings are intense and left no doubt as to the problem. One of those is the story of Jesus clearing out the temple. Through most of his ministry, Jesus seemed to keep his head about him – even in death he said very little. But in this story he looks more like a mad man than a rabbi.

I think Jesus was so angry because his father was being misrepresented.

He saw those charged with the priesthood caring more about their pocketbook and their systems.

The outsider and the marginalized knew nothing about God other than what they saw at the temple and synagogue where money was being made and nit-picking over scriptures and social issues were commonplace.

You can see why Jesus did what he did. And, why he was so upset.

I don’t work for a church anymore and spend a lot of time with those who will likely never step foot in a church. While many of their complaints about the church and Christianity are not fair and founded in anecdotal observations, many of their issues come quite honestly.

You see, I believe Jesus cares about those outside of his church as much as those on the inside. And when those on the outside feel less loved and valued than those on the inside……….

The church might have a problem.

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One thought on “on how we represent God (or how Jesus cares about those outside the church)

  1. I love this. You know, I feel like a guy on the “outside”. I have made choices that some would say have irreconcilably placed me on the outside. I can definitely see how some would have a tough time coming to terms with an agnostic atheist coming to church every Sunday. Some might even see it as a challenge.

    Formerly being in the church for so long I no longer have the luxury of being naïve about how people view the outsider. I know the inner workings and the frustrating conversations that go on in deacons and elders meetings. I know how openly the leadership holds certain people in contempt if they are somehow sliding out of the approved mold. I don’t know how to get past those memories and images. The reality is that I have good reason to be wary of putting my neck out there.

    I also know that some of the kindest and most generous people I have ever met are in the church, and I truly miss their company. I want my kids to grow up knowing families like this and having these types of friends. There just aren’t that many outlets to create real community outside the church, and even if there were it wouldn’t be the same.

    As a result, the church is something that scares me. There are times that I would really like to attend with my wife and kids, but I am afraid that the people in church would only see me as a project and have trouble being ok with just letting me be me. I don’t want to be the sore thumb that draws attention and sympathy to my family. I may not agree with all that I am hearing from the pulpit or during a worship service, but I would not be there for that. I would be there so that I could be with my family while they partake in something that is important to them. I would be there so that I could take my son to the bathroom and color with him so that my wife can be spiritually fed without feeling distracted every five seconds.

    I am not sure how to bridge this gap, but reading this I have new hope. Thanks, Robey.

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