Sunday, December 14, 2008

Behind the scenes work

Today someone told me that one of the things they like about our church—a thing that attracted them to us— is that we seem to have more than our share of people with problems.

That's a compliment.

They said they thought it shows our church really does extend grace to people who are different, who have issues, who have difficult lives. That we're not pretending we love messy people, but secretly don't want them around. They like that when they come to our church they don't see a lot of people who are pretending to be perfect.

I hear comments like that, and I think, "Well, what do you know? It seems like we have made some progress as part of the body of Christ."

One of the watchwords in our congregation is "real." We want to be real Christians who are authentically attempting to live our lives as Jesus would have us live. Over the years, taking this seriously began to create an atmosphere where people actually try pretty hard. I tell visitors that one of the best things about our church is that we have a good heart. It's true, and it's something of which I am glad to be a part.

What most people don't know, however, is that there is a cost to being this kind of a church. We have more than our share of behind-the-scenes work to do with the "messy" people we attract. There's a lot of counseling going on, bad behavior to confront, and a lot more. I don't know that I've ever been in a church where the leadership has had to deal with this frequency of personal crisis situations, year in and year out.

It's the work of transformation. People come in messy, and as the opportunities present themselves, we do what we can to speak God's truth into their lives. Sometimes we see growth. Other times the people turn away, leave the church, or wallow in their difficulties. It takes a lot of time and energy on our part, and it doesn't always work.

Still, the impression I'm always left with is that when the leaders of our church meet up with Jesus, each in our own time, this is the kind of work he will mention to us as the most important for the Kingdom. The messy people matter to Jesus. And anything we can do on their behalf, even if it does not seem successful to us, somehow matters in the Kingdom.

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