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Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Worship and the dilemma of the Poor and the Door

Locking Out The Poor from The Work Of The People on Vimeo.

I like what Shane is saying here. Let me try and turn it toward worship.

My most common thought about worship and the poor has gone something like this: "We need to get out of this building and get to helping the poor, whom I often refer to as the "needy" or "underprivileged" or other such derogatory term. I mean, who wants to be called "needy?"

I am learning to approach it differently. The ultimate goal isn't to get out the door to help the poor; rather it is to bring the poor through the door. (and all that this would signify) In fact, true worship gets rid of the door altogether. Think about the parable of the wedding feast-- the one where Jesus commends them to go to the streets and bring in the poor and the lame in order to "fill up my house."

Steve Fee wrote a song some years back called "Madly." The chorus went like this, "Let what we do in here fill the streets out there." I like it, but the more I reflect the more I would change it to, "Let what we do out there fill the seats in here."

So here's the question: Would the guy on the corner with the "Will work for food" placard feel at home or out of place in our sanctuaries. Maybe the biggest challenge we have isn't on the outside but on the inside.


posted by John David Walt | at 8/12/2009 03:01:00 AM



Blogger Jamey said...

My church is located within walking distance from gated "communities" with people who don't allow soliciting, evangelism included. To invite the poor into the doors of our church would require busing them in. While it would be great to be more racially diverse I think it would be artificial at best. Rather than inviting the poor to church my fam tries to be the church in our daily interactions with our disenfranchised neighbors.

This is a real struggle though. I think I'm a jaded dreamer. I've resigned to the "impossibility" of breaking down the walls of class and race in our Sunday morning services so I dream of what it might look like in a different context. Yet God has called me to THIS context--where I live in the hood yet work in a church of affluence. I look forward to some insight from this post. How can we bridge the gap?

11:04 PM EDT  
Blogger Jamey said...

What gives? Don't give up on this. . .I need some wisdom here!

3:58 PM EDT  
Blogger Krissi said...

I don't think it's necessarily an either/or when it comes to going out to those who are poor and despairing or bringing them through the doors of the church. I think it's a both/and. In truth, I think we should be crossing the street with each other, over and over. It's a two way street that we should be traveling not just once but all the time, and if we travel it often, it means we have to utilize both directions.

10:35 PM EDT  
Blogger Mark Benjamin said...

Jamey- I've been pondering your comment. I definitely identify with your struggle here. I've spent the past few months in a little rural farm community called Koinonia in southwest Georgia. One of the things I've been learning here, is that nothing quite replaces presence (an incarnational presence). The very fact that I daily interact with the poor, creates opportunities. Opportunities I'm sure you often encounter within your neighborhood. I've come to think of them as really ordinary opportunities; to listen, to help someone clean up their house, give someone a drive, to help pay a utility bill, or pick up a pack of smokes at the store.

However, the possibility to open my eyes and see, and unstop my ears and listen has been truly freeing. When I worked at the University, I really struggled to get out of my neighborhood and engage people outside my social status with any sense of real friendship. Here as a laboring intern in my dirty clothes i've somehow just become enough like my neighbors here that they bless me to share their pain with me.

I'm really encouraged by what you are struggling to live out there.

The struggle to bring the worlds of a big mainline "First" church of Some-town in the suburbs, to the reality and struggle of human existence all around us is a profound challenge. One very simple thought I reflect on frequently are the words of Mother Teresa, "In this life you will do no great things, only small things with great love." To bridge these realities is no doubt "greater" than what you could offer. So what are the small things with great love you are engaged in?

I think the challenge of someone in your situation is
to try to introduce your friends in the suburbs to your friends who are poor. Your presence in these two worlds, while challenging, holds the promise of a prophetic witness within both communities. The poor can see someone who intentionally denies what they could have, to be a part of the struggle among them. The rich see a fool who denies what he could have to live out the faith they too confess. They hopefully see someone who not only "believes," but acts.

As for how we get the poor into the "first" church of some-town? That's a tough one. I recall the struggle it has been for me to bring my brother to church. He has struggled with drug addictions for years. I often sat and cringed at all the things that were said, or that he encountered. It's unbelievable the barriers that can exist to truly being hospitable to someone like my brother. But for me, it really took sitting there with him through a number of services at various churches to begin to wrestle with those questions. I'm guessing it would take many of the people in your church having a similar experience. They likely don't have cold hearts, they rather have huge blind spots in their thinking. As Shane said, they are getting locked up and don't even know it.

If you have truly resigned to the "impossibility", then get out fast man. But if you sense your called to that duality, then look for the "possibility" of one. Look for a key person you can influence and hold out hope for.

Here is the reality, you have been at this struggle longer and more intentionally then most of us readers, so now I will throw it back at you...you work in an affluent church, but live in the hood, what have you been learning in that struggle?

I think you're a Champion Jamey!

8:42 PM EDT  
Blogger Jamey said...

Thank you so much for your thoughts Mark--great to re-connect. It's ironic that you suggest introducing my church friends to my neighborhood friends. THis coming weekend my wife and I are hosting a barbeque at our house for those two groups. I've asked everyone to bring something whether it be a 2-liter for one and a rack of ribs for another. I pray and hope that my neighbors and parishioners see ones who "act."

THe best thing we've done is an urban immersion experience called, "Bridging the Gap," basically a homeless simulation. God used it to profoundly change several of the participants lives--many are interacting with the homeless and others in meaningful ways.

Hopefully over time these relationships will result in people sharing the Sunday morning experience. Perhaps I won't live to see it but that seeds I plant can be a part of the move in that direction.

9:43 AM EDT  

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