In a blatant “riff off” of my pastor’s latest sermon, let me explain the basic premise of his message: Pastor Steven speaks with a young man who had been turned-off by his experience with “the Church.” “I don’t like the Church,” the youth declares. “Well, what type of church do you not like?” the pastor queries, probing further. “Um … the greedy, judgmental, close-minded, hypocritical kind.”
“Good! I don’t like them either.”
And really, who does? Who will sit here and wax poetic about how much he adores those two-faced connivers?
But moving past the obvious stereotypes (as in, let’s not glare at the new arrival’s scuffed-up Chucks or brag about how amazing a church we are and how much good we do for this poor, “bless-your-heart”—insert Southern death-glare—community), what would the ideal “Church” be?
How can we represent Christ’s love to those around us?
In 1 Timothy 1:15, Paul asserts, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” At first, this sentence just annoyed me, as I perceived it as arrogance on Paul’s part, looking to outdo others even in how bad he is.
But as Pastor Steven pointed out, the spirit behind this declaration means more than anything else—that of a humbled man, willing to be open to others and admit his mistakes. I also think 1 Corinthians 9:19–23, where Paul speaks of “becoming all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” offers valuable insight into how we should approach those non-believers around us—with humility and flexibility.
It’s hard, sometimes, being this flexible as a Church and a Christian leader.
We have our doctrine and our beliefs, and there are some notions—like the concept of Grace or Christ dying on the cross—that we cannot bend without fundamentally compromising our religion. And yet, this humility and open-mindedness are so crucial when dealing with those around us, especially with those coming from different backgrounds.
Having spent nine months in Morocco and Oman, I regularly dialogue and interact with Muslims, and some of my best friends are more agnostic-leaning “atheists.” And, strange as a notion as this might seem, LISTENING to their voices and hearing their perspectives is one of hardest and yet most meaning gifts we can offer to others.
I recently shared a quote with my best (agnostic) friend from Frances Wright, the noted (atheist) 19th century feminist:
“I am not going to question your opinion … and I am not going to dictate to you mine. All that I say is examine, inquire … know why you believe, understand what you believe, and possess a reason for that faith that is in you”
(which is eerily similar to 1 Peter 3:15, anyway).
My friend was so grateful in her response, noting that of the hundreds of Christians whom she knows, I was one of two who try to see things from a non-religious perspective.
A more typical response to these situations, I fear, is that what happened at my Bible study when I explained the Muslim perspective of Christ’s death, and all that met my words were blank stares and a long, pregnant pause until someone slapped their thigh and offered, “Well, let’s pray for the Muslims!” as a cure-all panacea.
I don’t offer these vignettes as a way of pointing out how amazing I am.
I’m really not—to the contrary, some days I feel as if I could really give Paul a run for his money on the “foremost sinner” award.
More to the point, I think it’s important to take away how big of an impact that we, as Christians, can have on those around us by just being willing to listen.
As the “burned” people by the Church often declare, they were hurt by and don’t like close-minded, self-righteous people. Well, good. To copy Pastor Steven, I don’t like them either. And, personally, I think that if we as leaders can get away from this particular stereotype, we can start to shed more light on the positive, redeeming aspects of our religion, like Christ’s love and forgiveness. First, though, we need to listen.
Thank you and God bless.
About Brett Beeson
Brett Beeson, officially, is an ensign (officer) in the United States Navy, currently stationed out of San Diego, CA. She graduated in 2014 from the United States Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science in Arabic and a minor in Spanish. Unofficially, she is the “evil twin” (one of Jory’s twin daughters), that annoying-friend-who-won’t-stop-calling, perpetual questioner, ice cream enthusiast, scribbler, roarer-of-laughter, and eternal student of God’s amazing mysteries. After extensive travel in Morocco and Oman, she has become passionate about furthering her/our understanding of the Middle East and Islam. To enjoy more of Brett’s writing, please visit Randomness with Brett.