He wants to lead his congregation in reaching out to the poor. He really wants his group to be committed to engaging the realities of urban poverty, including homelessness and extreme poverty.
He's finding that his vision and good intentions may not be enough to pull it off.
Here's the email exchange we shared. His comments are in italics, my embedded replies to his original message are in bold red font.
I need some counsel. As we’ve started to cultivate relationships with our poor friends, several of them have expressed the desire to participate in our house church gatherings. On one occasion, a couple of them have. Way cool!
We’re delighted that we’re rubbing shoulders with the poor in this way. But it’s messy. Ain't it the truth! If you keep it up, it'll get messier than it is now. . .kingdom does that. . .wears you out too!
I feel tension about it: 1) on one hand, our primary demographic is young adults in the . . . area; I’m concerned about our ability to connect to them in a house church gathering setting if more and more of our poor friends continue to come. Maybe the Lord has a different demographic that is being imposed or has come to challenge you. . .I am serious about that and understand your fear and trembling. . .the fact that you have the "problem" makes you and your current enterprise exceptional in a Shane Claiborne, et. al. sort of way. . . 2) at the same time, I’m thrilled that we have poor friends! It would not feel just or righteous telling Cindy, one of our homeless friends, “You can’t come to house church anymore.” It just doesn’t seem right. Never abandon your heart on this one.
How would you approach this? I 'd let whoever wanted to come, come. I think you'll find that the "non-Christians" among you (what exactly is that anyway????) would be impressed. I'd (you asked for my opinion!) want those looking for a church to know and understand up front our commitment to the poor.
Options we’ve considered: 1) start a house church for our poor neighbors; I wouldn't do this--class segregation is no different from racial segregation, plus reading James helps. . . . And Paul had a thing or two to say about the nature of the church and the poor. . .not that Paul answers all the questions! 2) continue to have our poor friends mingle with our young adult friends in a house church setting; I've found this works, especially if you address it together. 3) propose to our poor friends a weekly meal/hang out time where we can continue to cultivate relationships instead of in the house church setting, relationship. To what end? Friends who aren't good enough to be on the inside, but good enough to hang out with so as to make us feel as if we are doing Kingdom work. . .??? Middle class folks and educated folks too often operate under the notion that control is what we need. Usually, God doesn't work much in such situations.
If you’re able to respond through email, that would be great. Coffee would be even better. I know you’re a busy man. We see this as a significant strategic decision in our community and want to listen to as many wise voices as we can. Francis Shaeffer, not my favorite thinker, wrote a book 30 years ago or so--The Church at the End of the 20th Century--in which he said something like: the church needs the poor more than the poor need the church; the church needs the poor to sleep between its pressed, washed, starched sheets. It is about the kingdom, not about "decisions for Christ."
Let me know. Thanks. Feel free to take that "Thanks" back. ..but you asked! I wish I had time for coffee on the run, but if you want to meet me email. . . Love you guys!
I really don't think there is an acceptable, effective "middle ground" here.
What do you think?