Have you heard the joke about the man who came to church for the first time? She was a beautiful church, and he became very attracted to her. She had everything he was looking for. They started seeing each other on a regular basis. After a while, he and the church decided to consummate their relationship. One night the man stripped down to his bare necessities and waited for the church to join him. He watched with excitement as she undressed in front of him. First, she took off her refined music and put it away in the drawer. Then, she took off its various small group meetings and put them away in the drawer too. Then, she took off her motivational messages and put them in the drawer. She even took off her mission statement and statement of faith and put them in the drawer. He looked in amazement as she continued. She took off her coffee and cookies and put them in the drawer. Then she took off her public image of success and influence and put that in the drawer. Finally, she took off her fine building and accessories and put them in the drawer. There she stood, naked before him, very plain and ordinary. He looked at her. He looked at the drawer. Then he said, "I don't know whether to stay here or get in that drawer!
When new people come to our community, I always feel it is like dating. Let's admit it: they're shopping. I have to acknowledge that we are on trial. It is so tempting to try to control our image. It is so tempting to worry about what if one of my people swears in frustration in homegroup... which sometimes happens. What if they discover that everybody in my homegroup is have been divorced except me? What if they find out many of us drink and some of us smoke? It is so tempting to put our best face forward. But I resist those temptations as much as possible. They might as well find out sooner than later what we are like. And I say "we", because it is about the people. If they don't like the music or the teaching style or whatever, there's nothing that can be done about that. It's finally about us. Will they quickly discover that this is about friendship, relationship and community rather than all the extras? Will they discover that they can love and be loved here before the details of how we do things is discerned or before they discover the diversity of belief and lifestyle that is represented here? Will they recognize, ultimately, that this is a place where they can be free to discover their own faith and explore how to live it uniquely before God in this world?
The fine art photograph is taken by my friend Mark Hemmings