These days, in North America, lots of people are leaving the Church. In fact, many people in our modern culture find Christianity to be completely irrelevant to their daily lives. Why is this?
We believe it’s because most people think of our Christian faith only as a list of behaviors. Do the right things. Don’t do the the wrong ones. Say the right words. Avoid the wrong ones. Show up at the “Christian” events. Steer clear of the others. It’s all about the do’s and don’ts. It’s no surprise that people aren’t very interested.
But for those of us who have experienced the transforming power of the Gospel, we know that it’s much bigger than a simple set of rules. So how do we share this good news with those who have disengaged? Our answer is: be available. Invite people into the life of our family. This may sound simple, and in some ways it is, but it’s certainly not easy or quick.
We have a tenant named Hannah who lives in our basement apartment. Hannah loves Jesus, but she does have some issues with the Church. We wouldn't put her in the category of people who find the Church completely irrelevant, but our relationship with her is a good example of how “being available” can make a difference in someone’s life.
We met Hannah through a mutual friend because she needed an apartment and we needed a tenant. She was interested about our ministry from the start, but it took a while for the trust between us to grow. At first, she mostly stayed in her apartment and occasionally ventured to our kitchen door to chat for a few minutes. Occasionally she would join our family for supper at our special request. As we continued to invite her into our family—to eat meals, hang out, chat on our porch—she also began to invite us into deeper parts of her life. We began to have more conversations about life and her spiritual views. She ate more meals with us. We asked her to watch our kids. She asked us for a ride to work. We invited her to pray with us. She helped us host a party. She introduced us to some of her friends. She asked for some advice. Lisa helped her work out some friendship issues. She ate more meals with us. She started to come upstairs just to chat. We spent a Sabbath day together. Like a dad, I interviewed a boy who came to date her. We helped her discern what to do about a decision to move and go back to school.
The short of it is that we have continued to invite Hannah into our life — not just as a friend, not just as a person who is a part of our "ministry,” but as a member of our family. We have talked extensively about identity. Who is Hannah? How has God uniquely wired you? Who does He say you are? Who do you say you are? What does it mean to be a daughter of the King?
These conversations have changed how Hannah interacts with us and her friends. When we first met Hannah, much of her self worth and value was found in the status of her relationships with friends. Today, she engages those friendships from a place of confidence because she knows who she is. Before, conflict always turned into a lot of drama. Today, she enters conflict from a strong sense of self and a healthy understanding of biblical community and resolution.
Two days ago Hannah came up the steps as I was washing dishes. I greeted her with, "Hey daughter,” because it was the most natural thing to say. She greeted me back and we plunged right into conversation.
As we make ourselves available to our neighbors, new friends, and people we meet throughout the city, our heart is the same. We want to be available and to invite them into our family so they can discover their son- or daughter-ship; so they can discover their Father, who is also the King. It's slow. Building trust takes a long time. Wounds take time to bind and heal. But the investment is worth it.