This morning I went to church early to rehearse with the band, and Chrissy went to do homework at a nearby coffee shop until it was time to join us at the Lab. While she was there she overheard a conversation involving the two baristas and a patron that came in for a few minutes. If you don’t know anything about our church community, here are some of the salient aspects that have relevance for their conversation:
- The Evergreen Community is self described as a “missional, holistic, Christian community”
- We meet in the Lucky Labrador Brew Pub at two locations before the pubs open on Sunday mornings
- We are a church community that seeks to guide people in a relationship with Jesus that leads to growth and transformation, from whatever stage of their spiritual journey they may currently occupy
- One of the key goals is to be a place that is safe particularly for people who may be wary of attending a more traditional church in a church building, whether because they have never been part of a church body before, they have had previous bad experiences with other churches, or any other reason
The conversation Chrissy overheard was disappointing to say the least. The third member, the patron of the coffee shop, as it turned out was a staff member of the Lucky Lab. He was telling the baristas about the ridiculous situation he had to put up with, namely working in a pub that hosted church that morning. The baristas were incredulous, and they all shared a good laugh at the stupidity of such a phenomenon. They even joked about checking it out, much the same way one would talk about wearing a frying pan as a hat.
This painful conversation was disappointing for a number of reasons. First of all, it seems that people of the very group we most desire to reach find us not only unappealing but even laughable. Second, one of the people involved in the conversation was a member of the pub’s staff, in which our gatherings have been happening for years, and though we knew they were never excited about our presence, we would have at least hoped they might have become less hostile through direct observation and some personal contact with us. Finally, if a church like ours that is designed to be gentle and welcoming to those who might normally feel like outsiders, how is it that we seem to have failed so miserably with these three people, and is it even possible for any church community to accomplish this goal?
Chrissy told me about her experience just before the gathering started, so I had it running through my mind as Dustinbegan to preach about the Sermon on the Mount, specifically Matthew 5:38-48. Particularly relevant was when he began talking about loving one’s enemy and praying for those who persecute us. He pointed out that if we are not supposed to hate, but love, our enemies, what makes them enemies is not how we feel about or treat them, but how they feel about us. He told us about a previous church where he had ministered. They had been the first church in their area to meet in a public school, and there was some serious hostility. The lead pastor was on the school board and was faced with one other board member in particular who simply hated him and the church, but the pastor always treated the other man like a friend. What a perfect example of obedience to Jesus’ words, and it seemed effortless for him!
While this story is encouraging, it didn’t end with him winning over the hostile board member. He simply obeyed and loved the man because that was the Christlike, loving thing to do. God doesn’t promise us that living like Jesus will make everything better, and everyone will love us for it. On the contrary, he promises that people will hate us for it and treat us badly. But what makes it worth it is pleasing Jesus and being able to show Jesus’ love to everyone, some of whom just might accept it and turn to Jesus because of it!
I will begin and continue to pray for those who work at the Lucky Lab and have to put up with our admittedly strange customs each week, as well as for the baristas and everyone else in our sphere of influence who may love us, hate us, or fall somewhere in between. I hope that our whole church community, including me, grows so much like Jesus that loving everyone around us, including those who think we are ridiculous, becomes our natural response.