Monday, May 7, 2007

Doors Are So Last Century

This is a shout out to the woman who grabbed me after my final presentation at the Open Hearts, Open Doors Conference in Duluth, Minnesota a week ago. (The mission of this annual, ecumenical conference is to assist congregations in becoming more welcoming to LGBT persons and their families. It's the first conference of this kind that I've spoken at and it was awesome to be invited.) With a furrowed brow, this lady - in her 60's or 70's - said this after spending a day and a half listening to me preach & teach:
"I don't know what I think about all this (i.e. your presentations)...It took so much work to open these doors to everyone...and now you're telling us, 'Why do you have doors at all?'...(long pause) and I think you're probably right. But I'm going to have to go home and spend some time thinking about this."
I really appreciated her honesty...and her willingness to wrestle with new ideas, including this one: Putting a sign on the front lawn of your church that says "Everybody is welcome here!" just doesn't matter...if no one "out there" can think of one good reason why they should care. In this postmodern, post-Christendom, post-ecclesiastical, post-bourgeois, post-personal, post-(you fill in the blank now) world people are no longer lining up to get through our doors. If they were, a welcome mat would be all we'd need. But they're not. They couldn't care less if "we" are ready to welcome "them" because they think we are irrelevant. And who can blame them. Mostly, we're answering questions they don't have. And it doesn't seem like we're even interested in the questions they do have. Let me say this another way: They don't think we're irrelevant because we're not welcoming them into our places of worship. They frankly don't care whether we welcome them or not because they don't believe we have anything they could possibly want or need. This is one reason I just can't get very excited about the "let's make our denomination more welcoming" project that consumes a lot of people inside every mainline church these days. It's not that I think we shouldn't be welcoming. That's a no brainer. It's just that the project to become "welcoming" is, in some really big ways, so...last century. In this new century, people "out there" don't care whether or not there is a congregation in their neighborhood that welcomes them. But I DO think they would be intrigued if they got to ACTUALLY MEET a living, breathing, believing, loving follower of Jesus on their home turf...in the house next door, in the cubicle next to them, working under the hood of their car, coaching their kid's little league team, running for city council, playing pool with them at the local pub. I think they would be really interested if they could see, in the way we ordinary Christians live and act and serve, what true freedom looks like. I think people would be moved to real curiosity if they ever found themselves in the presence of someone who shows them what it looks like to be really free...free from sin, death, and the devil (ala Martin Luther)...free from peer pressure, self-loathing, greed, bondage to material things, and all the other stuff that strangles the life out of people in this culture...free even from the suffocating politics and legalism and traditionalism of the institutional church...free to serve others, free to give themselves away to make a difference in the world, free to be the priests they were ordained to be at their baptism (no degree, no credentials necessary!), free to die to self for the sake of neighbor, free to love even their enemies! Hoekendijk again: "Rarely do our words arouse amazement, but people look up when they meet a free person who uses that freedom to serve" (1954). No one looks twice at our "welcome" signs, anymore. But heads snap when a free person walks by! In this new century, WE will be the only church that matters. Not the building. Not the pastor. Not the membership roster. Not the clergy roster. Not the rules. Not the sign on the front lawn...no matter what it says. WE are the church. I wonder what we would be fighting over, arguing about, and striving for if our heads were really wrapped around that idea.

2 comments:

Ben said...

Time and time again I find that we are indeed "answering questions that people don't have", expending tremendous energy on the pomp and circumstance and completely missing the point.

Then we ask "why aren't my friends, neighbors, and kids involved in church?"

Thanks for the reminder that welcoming as the totality of our evangelistic effort is so... last century. (I'm not even sure it was effective then)

keep bloggin'... this stuff is great.

Kelly Fryer said...

Ben,

Welcome to the blog! And thanks for jumping in. Being new to the blogosphere, I only just today found your comment. Sorry! I'm wondering...what questions DO you hear people asking today??

The Bottom Line

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love becomes slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." - Galatians 5:13-14