Today I want to talk about the thing that is killing the church. And no it’s not bad theology, or that people don’t read their Bibles enough. These are important, but I think the thing that is killing the church is much more subtle. And it’s this: We use people.
We use people, we see people as leverage, and we see people as a means to our ends. Let me unpack that a little bit because it is important, dare I say critical too.
In essence, I think the trouble with the church is that we don’t love people deeply enough. We love who they can be or what they can do for us, but not who they are right now. We love the fact that they can change this light fixture, run this program, or give to this ministry. But do we simply first and foremost love them for who they are, before they contribute or do anything? Do we love them because they are worth loving?
And this is a subtle thing but a really key thing. Because we are called to love people where they are at, and not for what they can do, or even who they can become.
And this issue has even infected and affected our evangelism. Evangelism is literally sharing the good news about Jesus. This is a beautiful thing. But here is what can subtly happen – we make friends with them so they can come to know Jesus, and share Jesus with them. Rather than making friends because we think they are worth loving and caring.
And this happens all the time, and people see it, feel it, and know it. If you are nice to neighbors just so they will come to church, or come to know Jesus that’s just down-right wrong.
Yes I said wrong, and here is why. Because in that situation we are loving and caring for our neighbors just for our own agenda (going to church or accepting Jesus). Is that agenda good? Absolutely I believe deeply in the church and think Jesus is the hope of the world. But, and here is the kicker, it is still an agenda, even though it’s a good one. But love cares for people without an agenda. You don’t love your kids so that they will accept Jesus (but of course you pray they will). You love your kids because they are worth loving – and we need to live that way with everyone. People can know and sense if we love them, or if we love the “future them” they can become. But that’s using people, and not loving people. To love people you need to love who they are – right here and right now. God moves always in the present, and love is grounded in the present.
Andrew Root puts it this way:
Relationships in ministry are so significant not for what they get us but because they become the concrete yet mysterious places where the divine and human come together. Andrew Root
So what if we stop approaching the people in our church, our neighborhoods, or our community for what they can do for us – or for what we think is best for them. What if we love them where they are at, no agendas or strings attached, knowing that in that place Jesus is moving. What if we deeply practice love and just see what Jesus will do in and through that? Do I pray and hope that my friends and neighbors come to know Jesus – absolutely. He’s the biggest change in my life, and the reason I live my life the way I do. But I love my friends and neighbors first for who they are – people worth loving – and not for who they might become or do for me. And that small difference, makes all the difference.
In short, what I’m trying to say is this: relationships are to be cherished, not to be used. And I think this is something the church needs to learn if it is going to thrive. You know if someone loves you or what they can do for you. And that one subtle difference is something; the difference between a life-giving relationship, and a shallow fake relationship. And if the church is about anything it’s about deep relationships with each other, the world, and most of all, God. So let’s learn to love without an agenda.