FIRST-PERSON: The church, getting its 'hands dirty'
BARRE, Vt. (BP)--When Jesus walked among us He was often criticized by the religious elite for spending too much time with sinners. The way Jesus responded to these criticisms was to use a metaphor about health and sickness. Jesus said that the healthy do not need a doctor, but the sick do.
The clear implication of His metaphor was that He had come to seek and to save those who were lost. Yet, in our modern North American culture, too many churches actually spend the bulk of their energy trying to attract those who are already Christians. There are many reasons for this, but perhaps the most obvious is that Christians are the easiest to reach. They speak our church language and agree with the primary principles of our theology.
Reaching those who are not yet within the Christian fold is much more complicated. It takes a lot of energy and effort. It often takes a much longer period of time than we anticipated. It is almost always "messy" in a variety of practical ways. The church where I am an elder has put a lot of energy into reaching out to those who are not yet Christians. By the grace of God, many non-Christians are responding and finding new faith in Jesus Christ.
But the process of helping our friends make the journey from a sinful nature toward a godly nature is not without its bumps along the way. Our church was reminded of the messy aspect of reaching non-Christians at our recent Thanksgiving Eve service. We had a large crowd for the worship service and about half the crowd were teenagers who we have reached through our youth ministry. Though the bulk of the teens were very focused on what the Spirit was saying to the group, a small group of young men were sitting over to the side of the sanctuary and were talking during the entire service. Two of the ladies who have strong friendships with the group had already gone over and attempted to quiet them, but the boys did not comply with their request.
Though I was sitting on the platform, another man was preaching, so I was watching the entire affair. About halfway through the sermon they got so loud that it was becoming difficult to pay attention to the preacher. I left the platform and made my way over to where they were sitting. It was my intention to send the "leader of the pack" to a different seat and then sit with the rest of the group for the remainder of the service. Needless to say, my plan did not work out so well. The leader of the pack, whom we have had difficulty with before, decided to make a scene. He said a few obscene words. At that point I called for the deacons to come and they escorted him out of the building.
I wish I could say the situation ended there, but it did not. The young man became even more belligerent in the parking lot and the deacons regretfully had to call the police to come and help resolve the situation. I suppose I should point out that this is the fourth time in two years that the police have had to come to our building to assist us in situations involving difficult people. Like I said, reaching out to non-Christians can be messy. But if churches are not willing to get their hands dirty and reach out to people with problems, then who will help non-Christians find Jesus?
I did not go home with an uplifted spirit that night, but I did go home with an even firmer commitment to reach out to the lost. I don't know if we will ever reach that particular young man or not, but there are many other young men just like him whose hearts are not yet hardened to the Gospel. Those are the kind of people Jesus would be reaching out to, and so we must walk with Jesus in this journey, even though it is often painful and messy. We must continue to be a spiritual hospital reaching out to the spiritually sick. I am thankful that the Great Physician is the leader of our church, for He can heal those who are sick. I commit myself afresh and anew to do what I can to assist Him in His great work.
Terry Dorsett is director of the Green Mountain Baptist Association. For information, visit VermontBaptist.org.