I just got through reading a very moving story posted at “We are in Jesus.” It’s a post on how we believers tend to market our churches, rather than sharing our God with those who do not know Him. It’s a story of believers who had an opportunity to offer new life to someone hurting, and who could only offer a new “program.” This story brought tears to my eyes, because I’ve been there. I’ve been the one who participated in the church Bible Clubs and Vacation Bible Schools, and who, at the end of the program, could not say to those wonderful, hurting children in the worst parts of our town, “I’ll see you soon . . .” because our program had no follow-through . . . no way to go back and continue being a part of those young lives who so desperately needed someone to reach out to them.
Instead, all I had to offer was, “come to our church on Sunday.”
I remember one young boy in particular, Jose. He was a regular attender at the Vacation Bible Schools we held each summer several blocks from our church in the very worst neighborhood in our Sacramento suburb. His older brother was a local gang member, and they often used Jose as a courier for drug deals and other gang matters. He was, if I recall correctly, about nine years old.
I remember the look on his face the day his older brother tried to come and talk him out of hanging out with us in the park. I remember how he stood up for himself, and told his brother that he was going to stay.
I remember talking with Jose, after one of the messages. I remember the tears in his eyes as he talked about wanting something more. He didn’t know how to express it, but the conflict was plain in his eyes between the part of him that wanted to gain status in his older brother’s eyes, and the part that wanted to continue in relationship with us and the God we tried to introduce him to.
I remember asking the leaders of the event what we could offer him in the future.
I remember being told to let him know that we’d love to see him in church on Sunday.
It was, after all, right up the road. But how could any of us, who took Saturday off from our nice, middle-class life to come and spend time with the kids who had nothing, ever comprehend the pressures that held him there, that kept him from walking those ten blocks the next day. He was nine years old, for crying out loud! We didn’t even offer to come pick him up (I say “we,” even though I was only 14 or 15 at the time and didn’t have a car or a license to use one.) We just expected him to “show up,” simply because we said it was the right thing to do.
I and my church failed Jose. We failed him not because we didn’t tell him of Christ, but because we didn’t care enough to show him what a Christ-filled life should be like. We cared more about getting him to church . . . the “right place” to teach him such things.
As I have reiterated many, many times, I have a number of dear friends who have found wonderful church families inside a “normal,” organized, institutional church. That is the path they have chosen, and it is their choice to make. I rejoice with them in what they have found on that journey.
However, it seems like we often miss the point of that path. We forget that, while churches can be valuable tools for aiding in one’s search for Christ, it is He who is the point . . . any time we fail to demonstrate that, we fail Him.
I failed Him, with Jose, and each time I think about that day in the park, I wish I could find Jose today, a decade or so later, and beg his forgiveness for not offering more.
Let us always remember that the trappings of religion we adopt, be they churches, or traditions, or practices, or habits, or behaviors, are only a means to Christ.
He is the point.