This past Saturday on my way to church I passed by two key cultural markers. The markers clearly tell the story of a people fed up with salespersons, violence and hustlers trying to pilfer them out of what they’ve worked so hard for. The gospel and these closed doors are the real front lines of ministry–where the real battle for the hearts and minds are won or lost. How do you create relational bridges to people who have experienced some of the hardest pain that life has to offer? These signs are like the attitudes of so many in these tough communities. These kinds of attitudes are found in many churches–needless to say they prevent many from walking into the doors of the church.
As one of the pastors of a church in the Philly you become familiar with unspoken request to stay away. Could it be that the hard exterior that so many advertise is not a request to stay away but instead a cry for authentic relationship? These folks need relationships just like everyone else. They need love. God has given humanity this unique desire to be in relationship with others–its undeniable. Sin distorts but the sacrifice of Jesus restores and reconciles. The gospel of Christ can open the hardest heart so that the love of God can heal. A big part of the miraculous healing that God makes available is through the church; His ambassadors to those who are broken. In the midst of real community, the redeemed are sanctified to live in healthy relationships that honor their Redeemer. As the church we have a choice to either establish a culture that keeps folk outside of our doors or we can be the purveyors of a culture that invites all to hear and see the One who heals. I love the statement by Larry Crabb found in Joseph R. Myers book entitled, “The Search to Belong…Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small Groups”. Crabb says,
The future of the church depends on whether it develops true community. We can get by for a while on size, skilled communication, and programs to meet every need, but unless we sense that we belong to each other; with masks off, the vibrant church of today will become the powerless church of tomorrow. Stale, irreverant, a place of pretense where sufferers suffer alone, where pressure generates conformity rather than the Spirit creating life–that’s where the church is headed unless it focuses on community.