Before you read this post, though, please follow this link and go read Jeremiah 6 (NLT). Just don't forget to come back here when you're done!
Jeremiah 6 relates so well to something I have been thinking a lot about lately. How do we, as disciples of Christ, reach the lost, and who exactly do we consider to be "the lost"?
I fear that sometimes, when we think of those that God is calling us to reach, our minds go to those who are really really down on their luck. We think of those who are fighting addictions, those with mental health issues, those who are caught up in cycles of poverty. And reaching out to those folks is certainly a part of what we're called to do. Sometimes, we might be pleasantly surprised that they may not be as "spiritually lost" as we thought they were. At other times, we will find these folks at points of brokenness where they are so very eager to be shown Christian love and to hear God's word.
As pointed out in Jeremiah 6, the world is a mess -- now, just as it was 3,000 or so years ago. But, as pointed out in verses 9 and 10, we are still called to reaching out to that hurting world, regardless of how hopeless it may seem at points.
A few years ago, our church planted another church -- called JOY Church -- which meets on Sunday mornings at the local community center. It was designed to reach out to some of the most hurting of our community and it was done a wonderful job of just that. It was designed to reach folks who would have found themselves uncomfortable walking into a typical "church" setting on Sunday morning. It has been an incredible outreach and an incredible ministry.
However, there is an even bigger populace of "unchurched" in our community and those folks also may be uncomfortable walking into a typical "church" setting but they also are not going to walk into the local community center on Sunday mornings. This is a huge group out there. They are our neighbors, co-workers, and friends. They are the parents of the other kids on the soccer team. They are the ones we see regularly at our favorite restaurant. They are the ones who ring up our items at WalMart. The ones who work in area factories. They see a stigma with the local community center and are not going to go there. But they are also often two or three generations now away from the church. They have perhaps never even seen the inside of a church other than maybe for a wedding.
Yes, we have a responsibility to invite, and keep inviting them to church. But, in some cases, it seems ludicrous even to our own minds that these individuals, as their first official step toward spirituality, are going to show up in their "Sunday best" at a church with stained glass windows to sit through a worship service in which they are continually lost, hearing words and songs they have never before heard. We may luck out and, with God's help, get them into church one time but, even with radical hospitality during that one visit, will we ever get them back? Or will we just further cement their fears and feelings of discomfort? Will they walk away form the one visit saying "Well, that was dumb. Those people don't have anything I don't have. In fact, my Hummer is newer than theirs!"
I have written before about how churches ought to look like convenience stores. Not for the purpose of being a place where someone can run in and pick up a "six pack of God's love" but instead for the purpose of being a place that people are comfortable going into.
I think a real key here, too, is in "affinity groups". This is the establishment of groups of like-minded individuals outside of church walls. If I like baseball, I put together a group of buddies to get together and play ball or to go to a professional game once a month in the summer. If I like to do needlepoint, I create a needlepoint club. Whatever it takes, I reach out to them first in friendship and through a common bond, knowing that God will use that to open doors to greater things.
We have a responsibility here:
Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20, NLT)
Notice Jesus' promise in the last sentence -- he is with us even to the end of the age. He knew that things would change over time and he promised to be with us through all of that, helping us to learn better ways how to reach others for Him.
This is a responsibility we must not take lightly. Even if, or perhaps especially if, it means entering communities or relationships where we are God's only voice, we have a responsibility.
“Run up and down every street in Jerusalem,” says the Lord.
“Look high and low; search throughout the city!
If you can find even one just and honest person,
I will not destroy the city. (Jeremiah 5:1, NLT)