One of the hard parts about being a pastor is trying to be "under-cover" and yet remain true to who you are.
What I mean is that when I am at a "church" function or some other service such as a wedding or funeral it is easy for me to be "myself" as a pastor. I know what people expect and I am free to function in that role.
When I am at some other weekly activity such as shopping, at the gym, cutting my grass, or playing hockey, I try hard to not let people know that I am a pastor…especially a "reverend".
I know that may seem strange to those who are still in preparation (bible school or seminary) or are not yet ordained. Why would I try to be incognito after going through all of the preparation and the process of ordination and then try to conceal the fact that I am an ordained pastor?
Why? Because as soon as people find out that I am a pastor, they get awkward and start apologizing for how they talk to me...or that they swore…or that they gave me a hard time as they teased me and made me the butt of a joke.
This is happens partially because the stereotypical pastor is holed up in his/her church office trying to stay pure and undefined by the "sinners". The result is that the average person doesn’t know a pastor outside of the church.
And the average pastor doesn’t know how to reach people outside of the church (building).
Perhaps that is what so many churches are filled with church folk instead of "sinners".
So, people sometimes act weird simply because they don't know how to act around a pastor. They see us a moral standard and are concerned that they will say and do the wrong thing around us.
I ran into this recently and the end of a hockey game. One of my teammates had seen a documentary on a cult and asked me if I was a part of them. I assured him that I was a Christian not a Scientologist.
He continued and explained why he doesn't go to church. His answers were honest and open as he explained that he knew that God knew how he was doing. He had enough of churches that were run Iike businesses and seemed to be just after his money.
"I don't need to go to church..." He continued as he drew another teammate standing next to us into the conversation.
The other man said; "Yeah, I don't need to go to church either; THIS IS MY CHURCH!" as he pointed at the hockey rink. The first man agreed and said; "Yes, this is my church too!"
I came to realize that these men were correct. They had discovered their need for community at a hockey rink where they could be themselves and not have to make excuses for how they spoke or acted or lived their lives.
They were right that some churches have become business that were no longer serving what these men needed. They are no longer places where people seeking answers and peace and direction can come and find the saving grace of the LORD through Jesus Christ.
They had enough and weren't willing to simply drink the Kool-Aid. They had found life in something other than the church and they weren't going back.
So what do we, who know the LORD and are called to be an ambassador say to them and their concerns and objections? How do we reach them where they are at?
It’s not complicated; in fact the answer is so very simple that we simply don't do it.
We need to go to where they are.
After all, that IS what Jesus would do because that is what He did. All of the Gospel stories are filled with Jesus hanging with people who were rejected by the religious folks. And they, too, had enough and weren't going back even if they were invited.
Jesus didn't make the church to be a fortress in which we run to to be safe from "them". Christians are the called out and set apart followers who come to be equipped so that we can go out to our worlds.
Jesus instructed us to not wear special clothing or take special seats or let people be hindered by our "holiness" and self-righteousness. Jesus has had enough of that which is why the church was created.
Jesus instructed us to NOT put ourselves in a posture where we are away from "them"; and yet we do that over and over again.
And "non-church" folks have had enough and they aren't going back to church even if they are invited.
Jesus made us to be with people to be His hands and His feet to live our lives being “all things to all people” (1 Corinthians 9:22)
No, this doesn’t mean being a drunk to the drunk. This doesn’t give us an excuse to be immoral and to live lives contrary to the Word of God…the goal is salvation.
He made us (the church) to go after lost sheep, coins, and sons (please read Luke chapter 15).
Jesus made us to sit in coffee shops and play hockey and talk to our neighbors and cut their grass. Eat at local restaurants, walk our dogs, sign our kids up for baseball, let them know what it means to follow Jesus.
Jesus came to show the world what the Father looks like (John 14). When we see Jesus (in scripture) we get a picture of what the Father looks like; how He acts and moves...
Jesus left us to continue this. He wanted that people would know what the Father looks like when they see how we act and care and show the love of the LORD.
He sent the Holy Spirit to do the convicting of sin and of righteousness, and of judgment; which oftentimes is independent of them going to church....
And He sent the Holy Spirit to remind followers of Jesus (the Church) of what He said (John 16) and what He wants us to do.
We as pastors need to cry out for more of the Holy Spirit in our churches so that those who come in will be changed. And then we need to send them and go with them back into the world and be Jesus to this world.
Jesus is calling out to pastors, teachers, apostles, prophets, and evangelists to do the work of the ministry INSIDE the church to equip the saints for what they will do for the remaining 95% of their week.
Jesus is calling out to pastors, teachers, apostles, prophets, and evangelists to do the work of the ministry OUTSIDE the church and meet people where they are.
So strap on your skates, grab your sticks, and go to "their" church. Join their community and be a part of their lives and watch how He will use you to make a difference in this world.