When Christianity began it began on the margins.
Jesus was crucified as a criminal. It doesn’t get much more on the margins than that. The early converts were not primarily the wealthy or influential. Instead they were often the poor, the marginalized, and the slaves.
As Christianity moved to the center (Constantine and beyond) so did our focus of the people we were interested in. The margins became the focus of mission and benevolence rather than the constituency of the church. If you don’t believe that, ask yourself what your contact points are in the church with those who are on the margins…if your answer has more to do with mission trips or service outings than it does who is up front on Sunday serving in the worship, then this might affect your congregation. Or, if you were to ask yourself what type of person might be most drawn to the church you attend, who would come to mind? More importantly, would the same kind of people you have in mind be the people Jesus had in mind.
To be fair, Jesus came for all…and yet Jesus showed some preferential treatment for who Curtis Sergeant calls the “last, least and lost.”
Shouldn’t the church be focused these people as much as Jesus?
We often create churches that are attractive to those who have means rather than those who do not. James warned us about this when he wrote,
“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.”James 2:1-9
Our experience bears this out…those who have the highest perceived need of Jesus are often those who are of the greatest faith. It is entirely possible to be rich in possessions AND rely entirely on God but I am afraid that it is far easier for this to be the case when you have less. Again, not a rule or a law…just a principle.
This is why Jesus said,
“23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.””Matt 19:23-26
It is hard…even impossible with man…but not impossible with God! We need to be welcoming of all…rich and poor and be careful to not allow our flesh to begin making distinctions that God never made in regard to who is welcome and who is not. Our focus can’t be on who might help us make budget but on who God is calling us to reach…let the budget take care of itself…just be faithful!
I will take it a step further…I believe there is often more fruit in investing ourselves more and more in the last, least and lost…than in the people we may be more comfortable spending our time around. Again, not a law but a principle.
What would a church look like that was prepared to receive those on the margins? It might just be that it is not that we minister TO people in those situations but that we become a church OF people in those circumstances. If it was comfortable, everyone would be doing it. But often what is best for us is not concerned about what is comfortable for us.