Most churches are not very good at reaching the lost. Why not? Well, for one thing, because we think of them as “the lost”! In fact, we think of them as “them,” someone other than “us.”
Us and them
This “us” and “them” mentality is at the heart of the church’s irrelevance in today’s world. We church members consider ourselves “in.” We’ve been saved. We’ve found the Answer. We know the Way. We’ve arrived. We’re good. We don’t need anything more.
This is nice, of course. For us. But think of how it sounds to “them.” It sounds like judgement. Or pity. Or arrogance. After all, would you like to be referred to as “the lost“?
“Us” and “them” automatically assumes division and creates walls. And people sense that when we talk to them. (And about them.)
All of us
The fact is, all of us are finding God. We are on a journey. God is at the center, and we are all scattered around Him like wildlife around a fresh spring. Sometimes we are actively approaching the water. Sometimes fear keeps us away. Sometimes we can’t even see the water because of the weather or the brush or nightfall. Sometimes we give up and chew leaves instead. But we all need water. And we can all help each other find it.
Now, we never really reach the spring in this life. We get a taste of the water—in the dew and rain, and in the wells we dig for ourselves. But those are only a taste, enough to quench our thirst for a day and refresh us for the continued journey.
And in church I think we sometimes become satisfied with these little tastes. We forget that well water is not the same as Living Water, and we stop journeying toward the actual spring. In fact, maybe we are more eager to get people to our particular well than to help them find the spring! (Or to let them help us.)
I consider myself fortunate to have been given drinks of water from a lot of friendly sources—faith-filled family, wise teachers, honest churches, thought-provoking books, interesting co-workers, and challenging mentors. My journey has been pretty straightforward.
I’ve been blessed too by others who are traveling with me in the search for living water—my Jehovah’s Witness Bible study partner, my neighbor who trusts science more than organized religion, my atheist Facebook friend, my conservative brother, the pastors at my church, the textile artist at the art gallery. The questions we ask each other not only make the journey more enjoyable, they help refine our search and provide a taste of the spring of living water we’re ultimately looking for.
There is no “in” or “out.” There is only the spring and all of us thirsty people. We are taking steps toward the Living Water, or standing still, or turning our backs on it. As soon as we think we’ve arrived, we stop moving.
Now, this kind of talk makes churches uncomfortable because it sounds sort of New Age-y. I’m not trying to say that there is no right and wrong, or that we all believe in the same God, or that it’s up to each of us to define Him. No.
But I do believe that God is bigger than our religious constructs. And admitting we don’t have all the answers is a good place to start when we want to build real relationships with people outside our buildings.
Finding God is a lifelong process. And we are just as likely to get a taste of Him at the local watering hole as in our sanctuaries.