So I asked myself, “If it is true that the church can be arrogant, judgemental, boring and all the rest why would anyone want to be connected? Why would I?” From a lifetime in the church, I cannot argue with Adam Hamilton‘s assessment, “Some of the most insensitive, critical, judgmental and mean-spirited people I’ve known claimed to be committed Christians.” Nor do I debate the conclusion: “Young people rejected Christianity because of the beliefs, attitudes, and action of Christians they knew.” So?
Throughout my life I have struggled with the church. Many, if not most, days my theme song is “Please Release me, let me go!” The reason I stay is the presence of Christians.
Some of the most amazing people, whose lives are screens upon which God becomes visible, and whom I would like to be like, are found around the church. This past week, at the congregation I attend, there was a funeral service for a 94 year old disciple. It was moving to hear testimony from some of the more “square peg in round hole” types that when they first ventured across the door sill he greeted them as long lost sons, and did so week after week. Said one, “He’s the reason I stayed.” And this too is simply true.
Although the last five years have dramatically raised the question as to whether God really is a God of transformation, on the positive side of that answer is the observation that congregations and congregational cultures can change. On this farewell tour across the country, we hear stories of congregations who took the research carefully and set about intentionally to improve their ministry of hospitality. Generally that focused, intentional work took about 2 years – and sometimes leaders feel they are playing Whack-a-mole with inappropriate and inhospitable comments – but cultivating an atmosphere of hospitality can happen and is the strategic key. This too is true.