I got this email today from a friend. And while this kind of note or phone call is common for me, today I’m just in a space where it triggered some deep emotion.
Brian: [I have met] a young man that you might be able to connect with. He’s really adrift and feeling pretty worthless. His dad is in prison (don’t know for what) and he is terribly afraid of disappointing his grandfather. He doesn’t seem to have a strong connection to his mom. I thought if maybe you could find the time to just come and have a coke with him, you might be able to connect with him. He apparently goes to (or has in the past) church, but he’s really struggling with his faith along with everything else. Let me know what you think – he sounded like he would be willing to talk to you if you would be willing. Thanks.
If you got this email from your friend, what would you do?
There are not many circumstances that I can say this about, but for this one, I can say that I know exactly what I will do.
I’ve already emailed my friend back to tell her I’m willing and asked her for the best way for he and I to connect.
I’ve already prayed for this guy. And not so much that all of his problems will disappear, but for me to start seeing and feeling him as a real human being…to have an openness to accept him as a brother or possibly as a son. This is so I won’t treat him like a some kind of “project” or as an inconvenience to my routine or as a problem to be fixed or as an issue to pass on to someone or something else. I’ll have to return to this prayer constantly, and I will.
I’ll then drive down there and buy him a coke and listen to him deeply and single-mindedly. Since you can’t really listen to someone while doing anything else (contrary to popular belief and practice), I’ll work hard to ignore the distractions of my phone, my thoughts, and my watch. I’ll have to do this work constantly, and I will.
Then, and I guarantee this, I will feel completely over-whelmed and over-my-head, baffled with questions of how to help him and what to do next. This happens every time, and I’ve come to expect it…even welcome it… for me, it’s always proof positive that I have followed God, and will need Him to be of any use.
Even with this, I still know what I’ll do next. I will invite him to my basement on Tuesday nights at 8:30pm, and/or to my living room on Sunday evenings at 5:30 for him to get to know a whole bunch of us who have felt (or does feel) like him and are experimenting with how Christ can help us connect with God & each other in a way that heals, restores, and transforms.
That’s pretty much the extent of what I’ll do.
But here’s what will happen next: If and when he comes to either of these groups, he will be engaged personally, invited to share his story (and hear ours, if he is at first uncomfortable in sharing his, which you may surprised is rarely the case), and surrounded by support and love. Then, if and when he is willing, his name and phone number will be in about a dozen new people’s cell phones, and theirs in his. No matter how he has sinned, what his personality is like, what quirkiness he exhibits, he will be in the midst of people that love to work a little bit harder than most I know (Christian or not) to find this guy’s beauty and potential as a child of God. Inasmuch as this guy wants it, he will be accepted where he is at and challenged to take responsibility for moving towards the best possible life available to him…the life of Christ.
This is my life. It is a good, good life. And when I do this, I feel more like I’m being the church that Christ intended than I ever have.
And here’s the thing…for me to have the agility and ability to do that when the opportunity arises (which it does for everyone when you have eyes to see), I have to already have in place something else. A system.
I kinda hate the clunkiness of the word, but I need one, so I’m going with it.
I can do what I’m going to do because of a system that I already have in place that makes room for this guy in my life (or in my “church”). This system (which is, simply put, a couple of small groups that meet weekly for the purpose of taking off the mask and helping each other become more like Christ) is almost completely relationally based, demands involvement from anyone who would come, gets to matters of the heart quickly, and believes in everybody.
How many people in this city do you think generally fit the description that my friend has chosen to describe this guy?
- He’s “adrift”
- Struggling to feel worthy
- Spiritually fatherless
- Afraid of disappointing others
- Lacking strong connections with important people
- Has tried church and is left wanting
- Struggling with faith
And here’s the kicker, and the opportunity that I keep finding with almost everyone I meet “…he sounds like he would be willing to talk if I am willing to talk.”
And I am. This is my life. And I love it.
My day job consists of me trying to transition an incredibly loving and committed, but stereo-typical local church, from one system to another. A system that better makes room for this guy and addresses what my friend said he’s ready, willing, and open to addressing. A system that is more relationally based (like Christ), demands involvement from anyone who participates (like Christ), gets to matters of the heart quickly (like Christ), and believes in everybody (like Christ).
Simply said, I’m trying to transition this church into one that has a system that invites people to sit down over a coke and talk.
Our current system invites people to sit down, alright. “Sit down” in a big room with pews and listen to a preacher. “Sit down” in some smaller rooms and listen to a teacher. In some of the rooms, the teacher might even invite you to talk for a moment. Shoot, they may even hand out those cokes! But the likelihood that our current system will connect with you and talk…really talk… about your feelings of unworthiness, or fatherlessness, or fear of disappointing others, or in your faith struggle, or of your being “adrift” are quite slight, and would require a whole lot of initiative on your part.
Now…the message in the system we currently use is good. Jesus Christ has come to give us life, life to the full. Forgiveness is yours. Love is real. God is accessible. Purpose is available. Death is defeated. But the system being used to deliver that unchanging message needs to be changed.
I wish I could say that our current system was bad. Transitioning into a new, better system would be so much easier if our current system was just plain bad. But it’s not. It does some good. And further, in the past, when it was operating within the culture it was designed for, it has done some incredible good… including for some of the people who are currently within it. As a result, some have deep affection not just for Christ and his message, but for the system that was used to deliver them to Christ. This makes altering it very, very difficult. It’s human nature, really, not villainous. Just like we hang on to old high school letter jackets that don’t fit anymore because of the good that we associate with it, we hang on to our old church systems that don’t fit anymore because of the Good that we associate with it.
But the emails and the phone calls and the friends of friends of friends who are looking for life keep coming in. I will pass approximately 20-30 churches on the way to meet this guy over a coke, all of whom deliver the same message that I will deliver, but through systems that don’t work for him.
If we would just interpret the culture we live in as diligently as we attempt to interpret holy scripture, I believe we would find that he represents an ever-increasing number of our nation.
God help us.