Monday, January 6, 2014

Freeks & Geeks: New Directions

(Re-blogged from The Stainless Steel Soapbox)

In addition to Jesus coming to me for a reset on my current ministry efforts, He's been talking to me about the character and nature of the church we are planning. Specifically, He's been speaking to me about the people we need to work to reach.

The first and foremost function of any congregation is to fulfill the Great Commission. Nothing else really matters if we fail at that one task. We can have worship that takes us to the very throne of God, preaching that convicts and challenges, and prayer that moves mountains if we are not leading people into a saving relationship with Jesus. If we are not conveying the love of God to the unchurched and dechurched then we are not doing all that Jesus commanded.

The question isn't whether or not to build a church around reaching the unchurched but who amongst the unchurched does the church's makeup give you a unique ability to reach? This is the question Jesus asked me that I'm wrestling with and I confess I don't have a complete answer for yet. I do think I'm on the right track.
In this process, Jesus has asked me several times to evaluate myself not only my relationship with Him but my own strengths, weaknesses, passions, and who I am. Who am I gifted to reach? Outsiders and outcasts have always been my passion, having been one myself most of my life, but which ones?

From the beginning of the planning, I knew we would be a church that will be unique in this area. I'm taking the best from places I've served and attended and pulling them into a blend that's similar to a couple of them but not complete like them either. The church my wife and I have been attending for the last couple of years is one we'll be drawing the most from as we plan since it is one of the most successful at reaching the unchurched that we've been privileged to be a part of. Our focus has always been to reach the lost that the mainstream church often ignores or overlooks.

At first, because of all the years I spent in a church that was very good for regular, blue-collar guys and bikers, that I would be engaged in similar ministry and that may still be a part of it. However, as the Lord has been leading me to assess who we are uniquely gifted to reach and who the people in our circles are, the answer has been changing. The people who were in my notes as secondary are moving to the primary. I admit, it's a more difficult group to reach than my original focus.

I've been feeling like the Lord is shifting my focus to, well, people more like me. That may sound absurd but, believe it or not, reaching people like me is out of my comfort zone. I've spent most of the years I've been in ministry reaching people who are nothing like me. Most of the last seventeen years were spent in inner city ministry. I grew up in an upwardly-mobile, white collar, middle class household. Most of my family on my father's side were farmers including his parents. I enjoy being in the woods. I almost always wear cowboy boots. There's nothing about me or my life that says "inner city pastor." Yet, that's what I spent fifteen years of my life dedicated to doing. That's my comfort zone.

Going in a different direction is a little scary. I'm actually from a couple of the most challenging groups to reach with the Gospel, the geeks, rockers, and creative/artistic people. However, these groups along with their various subcultures, who often overlap, are some of the people the church is poorest at reaching.

When it comes to artists, musicians, and others, they often feel that the church stifles or ignores the fullness of their talents. I can't tell you how many performers of all types have expressed that they felt they the churches they attended didn't really appreciate themselves. Some have even said they held back for fear of be thought to be "showing off" or "trying to be the center of attention." This is a long-standing gripe of mine as I've seen and experienced this first hand. I've done several episodes over the years in almost all of the incarnations of my podcast about the need to remove the restrictions from our musicians, performers, and artists. The creative personalities of all types have always been on my heart as people I need to make sure are not only shown the real love of Jesus but to unleash them to use their talents and gifts to their fullest for the Glory of God.

Another group that has been on our hearts from the beginning has been sex workers. Strippers, prostitutes, call girls, and others in the sex trade need someplace safe to go and hear the love of Jesus preached without condemnation. If we accept people where they are and let the Holy Spirit do His work to lead them to change, we will do more to reflect Christ than we could ever imagine.

Shifting the central focus to people that have long been outcasts in society as weird, nerdy, or other reasons fits but is a little scary. Most people of the broad spectrum that the rest of the world calls geeks, weirdos and other names are usually the most wounded but the sting of rejection. I know. I remember my days as a young, science fiction loving, roleplaying gaming, comic book fan were like. Heck, I'm still most of those things just not as young anymore. I have also tempered my tastes a lot over the years but I'm still the same guy. I remember the ridicule and rejection. I was never part of the in-crowd no matter how much I might have wanted to be. My hobbies and interests separated me from most others around me. I was different from them and they barely tolerated me if they tolerated me at all.

There are a lot of times when I go into churches that I feel very out of place. Many of the churches I've visited and even been a part of always felt like they were for the "cool kids" and they were tolerating a socially acceptable outcast. It seemed like almost everyone had been the star quarterback who married the head cheerleader or had been a part of that circle. The one group I knew I could never be a part of when I was younger or even now. I know that the truth is a little different than that, but I cannot deny that's how I felt. Many times, even before the first handshake, I felt ready for rejection. All to often, I wasn't disappointed. I was cast off more than once and left with the other rejects.

If I felt that way, how many people feel the same? The people I now see the church reaching out to are the rejected and cast off not only from most of the mainstream church but society at large. The tattooed, pierced, and freaky along with other freaks and geeks will be welcome. This will require an entirely different way of doing things that the Lord hasn't fully revealed as of yet. I'm seek wise counsel from others either from that background or that are reaching out to them now.

Going after people like me is more challenging than I could ever expect. While creativity is a huge asset for the Kingdom, there are times that a good imagination can get in the way of receiving the Gospel. Paul reminds us that intellectuals often see the Gospel as foolishness. I know I did before I accepted Christ. We may start with those who already follow Jesus, but we need to be able and ready to reach out with the love of Jesus beyond our walls. We must fulfill the Great Commission.

Bottom line: Geeks, rejects, nerds, dweebs, Marvels, DC's, goths,  emos, punks, Whovians, Browncoats, Trekkers, Jedi, and Sith; You will have a home with us. Strippers, hookers, sex addicts, drunks, and others who feel like reprobates; You are welcome with us. Jesus is real for you too and loves you in all your uniqueness.