About a week after our Facebook exchange, I had my first (of several) face-to-face meetings with our youth pastor. I suggested meeting in person because so much can be lost in text… and assumed. I’ve walked down that road before and had absolutely no desire to do it ever again.
Almost immediately after taking his seat, the youth pastor jumped into the discussion. I can appreciate that. Why waste time on small talk, just get straight to the point. He wanted to know my philosophy about the purpose of church.
Honestly, the question surprised me. I thought the purpose of the meeting was to look at how I was discipling these teens, making sure everything aligned with the objectives of the church. (But even that was confusing because up to this point, everything I did went through the youth pastor…. I always got approval and then sent him pictures of almost all off campus activities after everything was said and done. At NO POINT, over the past four months, was there an expressed concern about what I was doing. Not once.)￼
But, I was more than willing to have this conversation about the church because it was something I’d been wrestling through… for years at that point. What is the purpose of the church? The function and objectives of the Sunday morning gathering? My thoughts were pretty simple and succinct by this point (thanks, in part, to a seminary class on church history). The purpose of the church, the bride of Christ, is to provide a witness to the lost. The Sunday morning gathering was just that…. a gathering of the saints for the purpose of hearing God’s Word, worshipping, communing and praying.
I couldn’t quite get the last few words out of my mouth before he offered up a sigh mixed with both relief and exasperation. He began to explain how MY problem was in my understanding of church…. my philosophy. Apparently, the elders of the church decided our place of worship would have a 50/50 philosophy: Half of our target audience would be believers and the other half, “seekers.” (Confession: When you start talking about an “audience,” you’ve already lost me and I have a visceral reaction when I hear words like seeker. It belongs in the world of Harry Potter… not the church. But, that’s also for another conversation.)
Mildly annoyed at this point, I asked for the scriptural basis for their decision. Clearly agitated with my question, he told me it wasn’t about that. (For clarification… how we “do” church wasn’t about scripture.) Now, before I go any further, I need to make this point: I have absolutely nothing against non-believers coming to church… NOTHING AT ALL. My problem is this: when we make the Sunday morning about them (or merely take their attendance into consideration), we often change things about the service. We’re reluctant to preach on “confrontational” topics or sing overtly religious songs.
I believe the primary (and, arguably, the ONLY) purpose of the Sunday morning service is gathering believers for worshipping the Lord. Second to that, equipping believers for the proclamation of the gospel. Translation: We should not be inviting people to church to HEAR the gospel. We should be sharing the gospel ourselves. Does it really matter where people hear the gospel? Nope. But the WHO does matter. We’re not suppose to be corralling our friends on Sunday morning, dropping them off at church and then letting our pastors share the good news. Spreading the gospel is OUR job. Making disciples is OUR job. Pastoring the flock is his (or hers, depending on your theology) responsibility and the flock consists of believers. See where I’m going here?
The youth pastor, unable to convince me my “philosophy” was wrong (which I was happy to concede if he could back up his “philosophy” with scripture… and he couldn’t), then decided to tell me the REAL reason we were having the meeting: The elders of the church had a problem with my teachings and methodology.
I’m sorry, can you repeat that?
Apparently, the elders had a problem with me taking the teens out of their communities and into the city to talk to the homeless. (Remember most of these teens lived in one of the most affluent towns in the state.) I could spend the next three hours writing about the remainder of that conversation, but I’ll save both of us the frustration.
In a nutshell, his primary complaint was with me taking the kids to Portland. In his opinion (and, supposedly, in the opinions of the elders), these teens needed to stay in their community. (He specifically told me these kids weren’t sharing the gospel with their friends at school, so they had no business sharing it in Portland to complete strangers.) For real. He said that. I told him it wasn’t an “either/or” situation. They could do both… and should do both.
I offered immediate pushback and told him that living in suburbia doesn’t negate passages like Matthew 25 and Isaiah 58. You don’t get out of taking care of the homeless or the prisoner because they don’t live in your zip code. He then told me I had to limit my time in Portland to 20%. But, we were already at 20%. I met with those kids five times a month. Only one of those interactions was in Portland. (It probably seemed like more than that because the time in Portland was impacting the teens. God was using it to transform them.)
I asked him to tell me where that percentage breakdown was in the Bible and that pretty much shut down the rest of our conversation. (Confession: That comment was 100% sarcastic. By this point, I was done. My patience had run out and anger was setting in. And, as we continued to meet, my ability to extend grace diminished. Thankfully, that was the last time we ever met by ourselves… for both or our sakes.)
He request that I spend the next few weeks (while on vacation) thinking about whether I could get behind the philosophy of the church…. because if I couldn’t, then I might need to find a new church. Seriously… I was told that I might need to find another church because I wanted to take a group of kids to minister to the homeless.
And you wonder why people leave the church.