The Other Side of the Fence

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.

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3 thoughts on “The Other Side of the Fence

  1. I know the primary object of your post was not the alternate prom, but I can’t help but comment. If the bowling event is designed to completely replace the prom, then sure, I see your point. Encourage the kids to go to prom…it is one of the highlights of their time in high school. But I don’t see the alternate prom as insular as you do nor do I agree that it will keep the kids from ministering to people “like” your sex-offender friends.I agree, we are called to minister to the “down and out.” But we are also told to flee from temptation. That involves not putting yourself in a situation where temptation can overcome you. That is easier to do if you have an alternative choice. If the bowling event is an alternative “after” event, then I would have no problem with it. I love you Adam, but I can’t help but wonder if you are having a bit of a knee jerk reaction to it because it is a church sponsored event. Instead of the church sponsoring the event, what if the bowling alley was sponsoring the event as a safe place for kids to go after prom where they won’t be exposed to alot of the temptations that are associated with the late night hours after prom? What if it was a concerned parent who decided to open up their home as a place for kids to go where there will be no substances and adult supervision? Are those bad ideas? No. I don’t think so. I’m all for adults encouraging, helping and guiding kids into better choices. In fact, I think the bowling idea can accomplish exactly what you said: Christians can have fun without the drugs, alcohol, sex, etc. And a bowling alley is an environment where kids can invite their friends without the friends feeling threatened or judged like they might in a church building. I hear people all the time wondering how to spend time with non-church members without them being worried about setting foot in a church building. The bowling alley is a safe environment for the church kids and the non-church kids. But I agree with you…let the kids go to prom. It’s a big event.And I don’t think providing a temptation free (no, I don’t think you can ever truly be in a completely temptation free environment…Satan is powerful and he can prey on you anywhere any tme)environment is mutually exclusive with ministering. I know there are some people who shield their children from the world. That’s not a good thing. But not every parent who tries to provide alternatives is being over protective. I think many parents realize that their teenagers, no matter how independent they may feel, are not mature enough to always make the best decisions and little help is needed. I’m 31 and I don’t always make the mature choice.

  2. Brian, I appreciate your thoughts. Knee jerk? Me? Never. Ha ha. What we need is balance, no doubt. I’m sure I often state the case for the alternative, but I think that’s because I feel that it is so under-appreciated. I think the last statement I made in the church learning to be the church is the key. We must learn our true identity. That’s the true tightrope walk before us. On the one hand I’m rah rah for getting Christians to influence their proms for Christ (or whatever cause we may want to influence). But there is a side of me that says, if a church wants to offer a safer alternative – do it and do it well. I didn’t mean to sound so anti that program. However, I feel that it is often a copout – the copout you mention, a kind of separate and hold down the fort mentality. Essentially it is the balance of “in the world” and “of the world.” We are encouraged to be the church in the world, but always acknowledging that our true nature is not of this world. I love Haurwas and Willimon’s idea of Christians as ‘resident aliens.’ That’s a hard idea to capture in our lives, but one we must strive towards. Thanks for your thoughts.

  3. Let me stay out of the way of you two heavy-weights and ask a different question:When did you move?”The police dept. where I live…”Things getting too tough at home with the wife and (almost) kid(s)?Jocularity, jocularity!

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