[As you can see, this is a multi-post theme and if you might find it helpful to begin at the beginning.]
If you were hoping I was winding down this topic, so so sorry, but some things have come to my attention since I started these rambling thoughts on how churches can and should be immeasurably more involved in the lives of the poor and the dregs of society. I believe that our churches should be much more like families for the left out and the left behind. Whether or not you agree with me, I hope you’ll read on and ask the Father if what I’m trying to say is true and if it has a bearing on how you are to live your life before him.
Outer Circle Churches don’t serve the poor so much as feast with them.
I was minding my own business, making every effort to bring this essay to a conclusion, when I had the misfortune of attending a church last Sunday wherein a guest speaker gave a message called “Feasting with the Poor.” He’s a young guy who almost unintentionally planted a church in San Diego by inviting the poor into their home – first for just one dinner, then another, and which eventually turned into a weekly feast among friends. His message from Luke 14 was remarkable, and since I can’t improve on it, I offer the audio to you. I hope you’ll give it a listen and see if the Spirit doesn’t speak as powerfully to you as he did (and continues to speak) to me. I warn you that it might well ruin you for either neglecting the poor altogether and/or relegating them to your favorite soup kitchen once a month.
Outer Circle Churches listen as much or more than they talk.
The neighborhoods I frequent in order to “make friends with God” host hundreds of men and women who talk to themselves and yell at invisible antagonists. Their minds have been mush from birth or from abuse or from profuse amounts of whiskey, crack, heroin, or meth – or all of the above. The people there are shipwrecks, and after years of being battered by relentless waves there’s not much left of the vessel. Demons have found safe houses in many of these precious souls.
Though obscured by their psychoses, they still bear the mark of the Creator’s image, and are loved in heaven, where – if they go there someday – their minds and social capabilities will be reassembled. In the meantime, they need to be told that they’re loved by the Reassembler. But maybe more than that, they’re dying (literally) to be heard – to be shown affectionate attention.
Sometimes instead of our mouths, God uses our ears, and through us makes an invisible, inaudible connection between his heart and theirs. We usually don’t fix anything or detectably reduce any of their mania. Our directive in those times is to simply receive the Father’s peaceful compassion to stand still and listen to the person beneath. And while we’d like to do more, we might recall the times when Jesus patiently listened to our panic and paranoia. Outer Circle Churches are grateful, not only to be God’s mouth, but also his ear. Because they know you can’t make a friend when you do all the talking they’re happy to be “quick to listen and slow to speak” (James 1:19).
We might think we’re smarter because we have stuff stuffed in our overstuffed closets and garages. We took a sociology class and think we understand all the sordid causes for destitution. What we think we know often barricades us from relationships with actual destitute people. Hanging out with people on the edges teaches us to listen. Sometimes that’s what people need most and what God requires of us. Outer Circle Churches listen at least as much as they talk, if not more.
I know when I was down and out, the friends I valued most were the ones who just let me vent without offering me premature sophomoric solutions. For the first time in my life I was on the outer circle myself, and authentic friends, rather than troubleshoot or judge, they just sat with me in my pain. That’s what the outer circle sufferer needs from the Church, attentive hearers.
An Outer Circle Church tries to impact people with their lives of service, not impress people with their Sunday services.
I celebrate how many churches today are beginning to “despectacularize.” They’re shifting toward simplicity and toward a more direct route of showing people what God is like and advancing his kingdom. They don’t depend on all the bells and whistles that are in vogue today in the Church world – or for that matter, the rest of the world. They’re beginning to realize that the greatest impact they can make in their communities is how they serve and not how they do their services. It’s not their spectacular programs but their simple and authentic love for the left out that make them an effective witness in their community. Jesus taught and modeled a compassionate lifestyle for those who choose to be like him. The Outer Circle Church doesn’t target the rich and toss crumbs to the poor. It begins by finding the feet most in need of washing.
“They will see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5
[Although technically there can only be 6 parts in a 6-part paper, this, with the “ish” clearly inserted qualifies as an exception to the rule. Please stay with me for one (possibly more) posts.]