Love the people the Lord has given you, not the ones you hope to have

There has been a sad tendency to really look for particular kinds of people who currently aren’t in the room to join the church the Lord has given us, rather than to love the specific people the Lord has already given us. On one level, there is nothing wrong with saying that our church seems to entirely lack ethnic minorities (assuming we are in a context with ethnic minorities about) or working class people (which every community will certainly have around) or any other group of people in our area and that we should at least ask the question why that might be and if there is anything we can, and ought to, do about it. Rather – as was noted on twitter a couple of weeks ago – this is more the sort of things in view:

The thrust of the responses can be summed up this way:

I have heard more than one church lay out their vision, including the specific people they wish to attract, and felt deeply uncomfortable at the implicit position that essentially says to those in the room, if you are not these demographics, at best we’ll tolerate you and at worst we don’t really want you at all. I think it is some horrendous messaging that gets stated far more frequently than anyone should be comfortable hearing. We ought to love the church God had given us first, and let them know it, before we start insisting there are groups we want to reach. If our people don’t know we love them and are grateful for them, there is little chance they won’t hear ‘we need to reach X demographic’ as an implicit suggestion that you don’t really want them.

One of the reasons (among many) this sort of thinking is so heinous is that often the people we think we want do not prove to be as wonderful and helpful as we assume they will be. Similarly, those people who we might look at and wonder how valuable they will be – as if that is a godly calculation to be making at any rate – very often prove worth more than their weight in gold. Most churches will find people in them that, if you were designing your perfect membership from scratch, might not make your theoretical cut. But I have frequently found such people very often have far more about them than we often credit them. And is Jesus not far more glorified at working through the kind of person that few would be choosing as their first choice in their membership top trumps than he is working through exactly the kind of people you would expect to be helpful? Jesus has a habit of bucking our, frankly prejudiced, expectations like that all the time.

As someone said to me a while ago, the character and calibre of people tends to come to the fore when there is a crisis. It’s not when things are going smoothly, or when all the ministries are being covered, that you get the measure of people. It’s when it hits the fan that you get the real measure of people. How do they respond to crises? How do they think about matters in those moments? Frequently, I have found, I am surprised by where real character lies in such moments. Often it is in the unassuming, the unheralded, the overlooked where you see real character and godly attitudes. That’s not to say you never see such things in those who might be ‘key players’ too, it is just to say you might be surprised at the calibre and character of some who you might not reckon to be among your ‘more valuable’ members (if such thinking is ever not totally ungodly).

In the Lord’s economy, he brings us the people he would have us love and care for. Again, that isn’t to say we shouldn’t think about those people and demographics we are missing. It is simply to say that our first duty is to love and care for the people the Lord has given us. Not least because the Lord knows better than we do what our church needs. Which is why those members many of us might despise may be just the people the Lord knows our church needs most.

Very few people seem to have a vision for reaching the elderly, or the deprived, because we don’t think they will be valuable to us as we cast vision for our church (whatever that means). But so often that calculation ends up having opposite to the desired effect. We end up with a church made in our image, or what we think will be a strategically important church, and we end up doing nothing more than impoverishing ourselves, our people and our churches.