“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” — Luke 15:4
I don’t meet many pastors or Christians who believe this anymore. We tend to accept those who appear more mature or are “willing to learn” or “have potential” — but we neglect the difficult cases. We abandon those who somehow don’t fall in line with our church methodology. We exert our efforts into the easy cases because they’ve met our ego-imposed standards, but we reject those who would “waste my time.”
This is a horrific, unbiblical, worldly legalism that has shackled prerequisites on the same people that Jesus died for. I don’t remember Jesus setting these sort of absurd checklists to make someone a “worthwhile” disciple.
We think it’s a success in ministry to have all these guys who go to seminary or sign up for a six-week discipleship course or serve on the praise team: and I praise God when that happens. But God forbid we also visit prisons, help the homeless, love on addicts, or do anything outside the church that doesn’t serve itself. God forbid we are open to the sincerely struggling and those curious of faith or those who have been burnt by the world and its performance-driven paranoia. God forbid we are loving to those who have nothing to offer back to the church.
I really want to ask some of these pastors and leaders: What are you actually doing for the Kingdom? Are you self-reflexively isolating your territory with “worthy” people who are yes-men to your ideology? Do you only collect churchgoers to perpetuate your programs inside the four walls of your building? Are you burdening your people with more classes and more sign-ups and more activities? Where is all this going? What are you doing with all that time? Have you even helped one individual your entire life? Why is the church making people more anxious and more exhausted and more frustrated? I don’t think this is what Jesus died for. He died to take burdens off, not add burdens on.
Recently, a famous pastor of a megachurch and bestselling Christian author called a meeting of his congregation and said, “Anyone who is serving on a team, you can stay. Anyone who isn’t serving here, there’s the door.” I don’t understand this. It’s freaking infuriating. This is why the church hurts people: because we’ve become an assembly line of jumping through dogmatic hoops. The “pastors” are power-brokers who have abused God’s authority for their own grandeur. I’ve always imagined the church as a beacon of healing in a bleak world, but we’ve assimilated the cultural ethos of American Idol into our sanctuaries. Imagine I tell you, “If you’re healthy enough, you can enter my hospital.”
If you do this to your people, then call yourself an employer or CEO or a college or a TV show or a critic, but please don’t freaking call yourself a Christian. We oppose God when this happens: and it’s not okay.
The church is certainly a sanctuary for the sacred: but it’s also a safe haven for sinners. It’s a hospital, and we do not refuse the sick.
Of course there is wisdom in using your time wisely. Pastors are only individuals who have limited resources and ability. But if you’re a leader in the church, then each person who walks through the door is not some commodity project: but a human being. They’re worth a portion of your time because they exist.
I can’t say I’m always good at this. I fail often as a pastor and as a human being. I have neglected others to my own shame. In my imperfect writing skill, I’ve probably wrongly added burdens in this post too. And I’m a small-time guy with just another critical voice in a sea of criticism. But I grieve for our Christian communities to be like Jesus. I pray we have a heart for the one when he leaves the 99. I hope we are not categorizing people into worthy and unworthy: because if this were true, none of us could stand in the grace of God. But that’s why it’s grace. It’s for people like you and me and not for who we deem worthy.