So, I’ve found this odd niche lately working with a couple of sex offenders who recently have been released from jail. It’s been an interesting experience and has led to much conversation among those who I talk with frequently. As a ministry, it has opened my eyes and challenged te traditional understanding of what I am supposed to do – particularly as a minister.
In our churches, we often pay lip service to the fact that our churches need to be about reaching the “down and out:” the “sinners” that Luke says Jesus spoke the prodigal son parable to – that’s what we’re to be about. I hear the words (say them actually), and have heard them all my life – but I’m not sure that I’ve seen it acted out. Ever. Churches, instead, seem to be a haven for the saved. As a matter of fact, I think we revel in our safety. Why else do we have Christian schools and such, but to ensure our safety. Just today I recieved in the mail an advertisement for a alt-prom one of the Churches of Christ in the area is doing – a bowling and hang out time where there won’t be the typical “prom-temptations” so near. Is this what Jesus would have in mind for our teenagers? I don’t want to rip on the idea, but I do question the motivation for doing this and similar programs. It seems to ensure the salt stays pent up in the shaker. That one room of the world is illuminated brightly, but the rest of the house is eerily dark.
Instead, I will always encourage our kids to go to prom. Go to prom and show your classmates how Christians have fun, how we celebrate! No drugs or alcohol, no sex or promiscuity, no outrageous prices paid for dresses and tuxes. Instead, sprinkle light and salt among the worldly influences – don’t run! Jesus would never want us to run. “They may give into temptation” our argument goes – but, then again, no one said this was to be easy and that there were no risks. Where there are no risks, there is usually no reward possible. We need to challenge our teenagers and challenge our churh people to be crazy with thier faith. We should do things that make others think we’re crazy (is that no exactly what people thought of the early Christians?!)
Back to my sex offender friends. This is a toughie for us today. There is no political issue in the public eye that has recieved more publicity than this one latey. Thanks to Dateline, people all across the country are scared to death their teens are going to be stalked on line. The police dept. where I live is on the news weekly as a national leader combatting online sexual predators. Now, to be sure, the two friends I have made were not engaged in child predator behavior, but instead made poor choices in dating girls several years younger than them. I’m not taking lightly what they did – I hate it and despise the power-trip they were on. At the same time, they are two people who I can shine a light on more brightly than anyone else, perhaps. Have you ever tried to find housing for one of these guys? Employment? A positive social network? Yeah, I suppose the challenges are pretty big and complex, but that seems to be exactly what Jesus came to do – minister to these big and complex issues and problems.
I am more and more convinced that the church can minister to people and grow and become spiritually mature by doing one thing: being the church. Not the church that many of us have come to know: racially insensitive, classist, materialistic, narcissistic, in-ward focused, to name a few – but th church that God intended. That is my hope and prayer for the Lord’s church. Let us begin to look outside our walls. A dying and hurting world awaits a ministry that we can provide. We need to stop worshiping tradition and comfort and begin to pursue a radical faith that has no bounds.