Something that always rubbed me the wrong way while I was involved with church was this idea that the church should only serve its community in order to “convert” non-believers or get people into the seats on Sunday morning. This always felt so gross and manipulative. Jesus freely gave to those in need and told us to do the same with no strings attached. He didn’t pitch them the next teaching series at Temple.
I am not great at volunteering my time, in general. I do so on occasion, but I usually donate money. We all play our parts, right? There are a few occasions I can remember wanting to organize some kind of event to serve our local community. I don’t remember what I wanted to do, exactly, but I do remember talking to the pastor about it.
He said something like, “Ok, great. What’s the end goal? Are we going to give them some literature or invite them to a specific service?”
I was surprised because I hadn’t even thought about that. I said, “Well, no. I thought we could just have this event and serve our community in this way.”
He pretty much said that the church wouldn’t sponsor an event without some kind of call to action. We had to talk to them about God, have some kind of alter call, offer to pray with them, or invite them to a service. I was so disappointed. It felt gross, honestly.
Why couldn’t we just serve and love our neighbors without proselytizing to them? Aren’t we supposed to show God’s love by our actions and not by how hard we try to sell them on it? Also, why are we assuming that people who are in need don’t already have a relationship with God? Do we inherently think that if you’re poor or have fallen on hard times, then you clearly don’t know Jesus because otherwise you wouldn’t be struggling?
These are some of the questions I had and still have. This is all so problematic. The more I learn about inherent bias, colonialism, and racism, the more problematic this all starts to look to me. I’ve always felt that if we are good at loving people, which is what we are commanded to do, then the fruit of our love will bring people to know Jesus better. Sales tactics, manipulation, coercion, and control do not produce good fruit. They never have – and today’s evangelical church is living proof of that.
I remember that we had a series that lasted several weeks just on how to invite people to church. We were encouraged (guilted? shamed?) and coached (indoctrinated?) on how to get people to come to church with us. As if the only way people will be able to experience God is within the walls of a church. And to be really clear, I didn’t go to a fundamentalist church like a Southern Baptist or Mormon/LDS church. I went to a non-denominational evangelical church. They play modern worship music and wear jeans and football jerseys on Sundays.
Wolves in sheep’s clothing? Some would say so. I think that until the Church takes full responsibility for the harm it’s done, this will remain true. The fruit will continue to be rotten. Until the Church owns its gross misrepresentation of God and Her true nature, it will continue to push people away from church. And maybe that’s exactly what needs to happen. Burn it all down and rebuild something anchored in love for Her people.