Why We Need Non-Christians to Save the Church

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I preached a hard sermon today. A sermon that was not meant to make people feel comfortable. It was a sermon born of frustration and prophecy; a sermon meant to inspire and shock. A sermon that took Acts 11:1-18 and made it personal. A sermon tasking people with breaking the rules, pushing the envelope violating polity. A sermon meant to honor the lesson that Prince taught my generation, which is to get through this thing called life. To embrace your place in the world, even when you are grasping to hold on, and to tell your story. Like Peter to the Jerusalem assembly. Here is why I am doing things differently, and why you should, too.

I wrote honestly last time about how I fear the congregation I serve could die within a generation. I spoke that aloud today, the pews filled with members and visitors, faithful and questioning. I put out a call that we are going to have to do more, try new things, dare to believe that God is okay with us making mistakes in the pursuit of relationships and connections. This is not about building up membership. This is about emerging as a brave, vital community that is comfortable enough in its own identity that it does not need to determine how others approach their spirituality. It means that we fling open our doors and actively go out into the community, not to proselytize but to listen. To hear the needs of God’s people and to use our resources to create space that allows for healing, for questioning, for reflection, for sharing, for a sense of belonging, and for a respect that there are infinite paths one may walk. We use a particular religious language and lens to express ourselves, but we are not frightened of other methods.

In truth, I’m looking for non-Christians. I find that the Christianity they reject is one I reject as well; my atheist friends largely reject belief in a God to whom I also cannot accede. We don’t honor God by being scared of others; we don’t honor God by allowing rules to keep up out of relationship. I am not arguing that “anything goes,” but when I read the gospel accounts, I encounter a Jesus who was in the muck and mire, who pushed the boundaries of clean and unclean, who was fearless and dogged in his pursuit to bring love to those who needed it most. That is what I yearn to do. To push the boundaries and to be engaged with people who ask questions, who push back against tradition, who demand that justice and equality be more than buzz words. We need those who are resistant; and I think that we have a lot to offer as well. A Jesus-centered commitment to life and relationships that demand action and attention. A community that lives the faith more than for an hour on Sunday.

I think it would be easier for me if I didn’t believe in God so deeply, so profoundly, that I cannot turn my back on what Christ calls me to do. I am not trying to talk myself up or present myself as some holy figure. I am broken; I am a blessed mess of contradictions and passions and desires that swirl around inside me, but the one constant is my sincere commitment to follow Jesus. Just, follow him. I’ll talk about him if you want. But I’m more interested in doing what he did. Being present. Loving. Standing up for justice. Centering on God. And listening to others. I can’t turn my back on that call. I don’t care if someone is a Christian or not. If they want to be in relationship with me, that is enough. If they need me and ask, I am going to go. I can do nothing less.

I really want to hear–especially for those in YS–what would make you consider stepping through the doors to have a chat, to share a meal, to complete a project, to form a relationship. Don’t think of this as church, think of it as a spiritual center where an invitation is being extended. Come share. Come exist. Come discover things about your self and your community and what it means to be an embodied spiritual being.

Because, dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.

4 thoughts on “Why We Need Non-Christians to Save the Church

  1. Twenty years ago, I left the denomination of my upbringing. They would not, could not based on their own laws, ordain a queer trans woman – no matter how strong her calling or her faith. Shortly thereafter, I left organised religion as a whole.

    This post speaks to me, as I am – finally – on my way to seminary this fall. Pastors speak of the church metaphorically – it’s the people, stupid – and often miss what the institution does to those people. Non-Christians do need to save the Church, but we must invite them first.

    Thank you for this post, and thank you for being willing to take the risk and speak true.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing, and for having the courage to not give up on God’s call to you. I love that you are going to seminary. I am also a theology professor, so please stay in touch. I want to support you on your journey. I wrote a piece that was rather controversial about how I believe God is gender fluid; I am excited to have more trans* pastors as colleagues because I believe that our theology will be enriched, our language more invitational, and our sense of the Body of Christ deepened. Blessings to you.

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