Fancy meeting you here!
Today a good friend of mine has taken over my blog – I asked Sarah Taylor if she wouldn’t mind writing up a piece for me to feature. Sarah and I go way back.. She was a full-time missionary to Europe through an organization called Europe’s Children, which focused on reaching out to European families, and I have been on several missions trips with her through this ministry, and seen many a beautiful castle, lush countryside, and lives changed with the message of Christ – not to mention an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction on my part (is that the most politically correct way to describe it?), airplane hysterics, and immensely fond memories. Currently Sarah is Senior Associate Pastor at Carbondale Assembly of God in Oklahoma and blogs regularly at “Where in the World is Sarah?”
Sarah is one of those people I am so glad I encountered! I know you will be encouraged and challenged by her words. Thanks, Sarah, for contributing to my blog!
I had a conversation the other day that got me thinking about church and what our reason for being is. We like to think the answer, or at least one of the answers, would be to reach the lost and hurting. But that takes a lot of energy and planning and will really wear you out, so it’s easier to exist to host pot lucks, disciple already churched people who have made the occasional mistake or two and need us to get them back on track, and/or just be in a place where we can congregate weekly (or bi-weekly/monthly… okay, when the weather is neither too cold or too hot or too perfect for the lake) and do life together.
Google “Doing Life Together” and you’ll get hundreds of images and hits. Churches today have adopted this as a super trendy way of saying come attend all our services, functions, and events and let’s eat a meal and share our stories and arrange play dates for our kids and form a softball league. It sounds super great and like something that I sort of want to be a part of. The problem I’m running into is that this phrase appeals to and works best when we’re targeting people who look, think, and act like me. Where’s the fun in doing life together if we have none of the same interests, ideals, or incomes? “Want to do life together? We plan on spending around $100 this week just on meals out, then we thought we’d go to a movie, enroll our kids in a super expensive ballet class–which your kids should totally join!–and then the women are having a spa day on Saturday. Oh, you’re a single mother with no high school diploma? Well, then, life with us isn’t going to work out.”
Some months ago the church I attend did an outreach event to our community that offered haircuts and groceries, free shoes and lunch. Our guests were paired up with our church members who hosted them during the course of the day. One such church family was paired with a single mother of 3 who came that day with a desire to change her life. We said come and find hope – and she did. We said come again next Sunday we’d love to have you – and so she did, except that she needed assistance in getting there because she had no car. We said come and do life with us – and she thought we meant it. The church family she was paired with quickly discovered that doing life together took on a whole new meaning as they invited her into their lives, offered to help by watching her kids and driving her to and from the store and doctor appointments and faithfully bringing her and 3 small children to church each week. She had found Jesus and found a reason to hope – she wanted to be there when the church doors were open. The church family was both applauded for their efforts and questioned about this mother’s motives, questioned about the time that this family was spending on this young woman, questioned about the safety of letting her kids and their own mingle and play together. Questioned (in an uppity voice) if doing life together with “her” was wise.
And this got me thinking. It’s a good idea this doing life together. An idea that Jesus would be all for. But when Jesus says ‘let’s do life together,’ it sounds different. The beloved disciple and friend of Jesus, John, wrote that in the beginning was The Word, meaning Jesus, and that Jesus was with God. So here’s Jesus who created all things walking around on the earth that He helped speak into existence and He’s doing life with people who have no clue who He is. At age 12 He is found speaking with teachers in the temple who were amazed at His knowledge, and He does life with people who have no real education, are easily confused, and need everything explained at least twice. He was sinless yet He did life together with sinners. He regularly ate in their homes, spent time with them, and forgave them when they messed up. He was God in the flesh and He did life together with those who were godless. He shared food, tears, heartache, pain, stories, words of hope, encouragement, and grace with all those with whom He chose to do life together. Moments of instruction and discipline would come in time as He walked alongside and did life with them. There was no one who would ever be as perfect, as wise, as rich as Him, and yet it wasn’t about finding others just like Him to do life with; it was about getting messy and dirty and going to the least of these and calling fishermen with no education to walk beside Him, and sitting children on His lap while teaching, and experiencing the pain of death and crying real tears with His grieving friends. Doing life together – it’s a very Jesus thing.
Doing life together sounds great when it’s a sermon series, small group curriculum, or the Christianese term we give to ‘dinner out with friends,’ but when we apply it to reaching our community, reaching those who so desperately need to know about Jesus, need hope, need someone to do life with really and truly, then it will get messy. It will mean spending time and being vulnerable and taking risks – the risk that you’ll be cheated or hurt or lied to. However, if the mission of the church is to reach the lost, then this type of doing life together will have to take place.
The church family who befriended this single mother in need of hope showed her what life together with Jesus looks like. This single mother wasn’t going to see what it means to speak with kindness to a spouse or to her children by hearing a sermon – she saw that in their home when they did life together. She wasn’t going to see what it means to take care of a home or how to budget by attending a class – she saw it in their home when they did life together. She wasn’t a project, a way to pat themselves on the back, a way to make them feel better about themselves – she was a person whom they invited to do life together with them. And the changes they have witnessed in her have been slow, but there nonetheless. What a privilege to be part of this young mother’s journey.
Do we really want to do life together? We’ll have to decide before we reach out into our communities. We’ll have to think it through before we knock on doors and pass out flyers. We’ll have to make some decisions before we tell people they can come and find a place to belong. Because if we don’t mean it, then let’s not say it. If we only want to help the hurting by giving money to a shelter or a food pantry, then let’s just do that and be honest about it. Our church is a place that gives and does life with other people just like us. But let’s not offer hope to a broken world if we aren’t prepared to do life with the ones the world has broken. Let’s not tell everyone to come and do life with us if we only mean it for a select few. If we say it we have to mean it because some single mother is counting on us to be true to our word.
Bottom line: I’m all for doing life together because together as the body of Christ is how we’re going to reach our world. Together is how we’re going to make an impact on a world in need of hope. Together is how we’re going to open the doors to our churches a little wider to let people know there is a place for them – regardless of color, status, background, or addictions. Come to our church – we do life together – and we mean it.