We are periodically approached by people who want to come to serve in our community. We tend to want to be open-handed to people. If they love the Lord Jesus, they are willing to commit to the church and submit to the elders, then we are happy enough to welcome them. But it has become clear over time that there are certain types of folks who – no matter how much they seem to want to join – I am sure will not last the course.
Some folk come because they are drawn with a desire to serve the poor. Of itself, absolutely nothing wrong with that desire. But if you are mainly coming because you just want to love and serve the poor, without meaning to burst any bubbles, you will end up leaving. Not only have I seen it personally, look to the Methodist church – once doing so well in deprived communities but now largely bereft itself – because the focus of many moved from the gospel they once proclaimed to the poor, to just doing good to the poor for its own sake.
Eventually, people get tired and ‘being nice is nice’ just isn’t enough to keep you going. Worse, you quickly discover that a lot of the people you have come to shower with love do not seem to reciprocate. Quite a lot of them are downright ungrateful for your help or view you no differently to the service providers they tap into elsewhere. The ‘big kick’ many hope to get out of serving the poor is not all it has cracked up to be for many. They just don’t get the warm-fuzzies they were hoping for when the Muslim dudes you had been speaking to for years ignore you in the street in front of their family so they aren’t associated with you, the asylum seekers you were trying to disciple up sticks and leave the area without ever saying goodbye or telling you they’ve left and the folks you give food parcels to yesterday wonder what you’ve done for them lately. If all you’ve got is a desire to do good and love the poor, it simply won’t keep you here.
If you are wedded to particular forms of church, you will almost certainly struggle. It’s not that we don’t have services that include the sort of elements you would expect in most churches. It’s more the form they take is not like other places. Things have a tendency to change quickly as we see new people come in and some folk leave because of the nature of the area. We have songs in different languages, we expect people to try and engage with folk who have only a few sentences of English to rub together, we expect people to adapt to ever-changing circumstances. Those who have very set, firm views on what church should look like don’t last very long.
The same extends well beyond formal services. Those who are wedded to certain types of outreach aren’t going to last. If you are only concerned in door-knocking and nothing else, you simply won’t get on very well in an area where people are very suspicious of white people knocking on their doors. If you can’t cope with sitting in a room and respectfully listening to a Muslim explain what they believe, you will struggle as one of the ways we are able to share what we believe with them – comparing and contrasting – is by giving them space to share too. If you aren’t interested in forming ongoing relationships with people, you will see very little fruit as people in our area respond to strong relationships. That doesn’t mean there is no place for cold-contact work (we do some of that too), but if we are happy to always be cold, we are being cold, and we will find that most people (unsurprisingly) don’t warm to such coldness.
The fact is, if you have very set views on how things should be – especially if they are drawn from years in churches in affluent communities and monocultural areas – you are likely to struggle. Those who are so wedded to forms tend to find they become discontent and cannot cope longterm.
Many are drawn to communities like ours because they think they will be more fulfilled doing the work that we do than they would be sticking where they are. But the bottom line is this: if you haven’t already found your fulfilment and satisfaction in Jesus, you certainly aren’t going to find it with us! We cannot do for you what only Christ can do.
Some come because they have a saviour complex. They think they will fix all the problems in our area. That is a starting point that is as wrongheaded as it is impossible to avoid burning out. You simply cannot fix the problems in our community, or our church, and frankly, neither need you to. That is Jesus’ job, not yours. If you have a saviour complex, you will leave deflated and defeated before too long.
Some come because they are desperate to be involved in what they consider ‘worthwhile ministry’. But most ministry is worthwhile. There is nothing more worthy and worthwhile about ours. And as the reality of what you have come to soon sets in, it won’t seem as worthy as it did from a distance. You will soon convince yourself that other ministry is just as worthwhile and considerably less hassle.
Others think that our little church looks really busy and effectively come to fill their time. Depending on your stage of life, and what else you have going on, for many we are quite a busy church. But that all depends how you judge busyness. And what sounds busy and fulfilling from a distance, in reality, soon becomes apparent is quite trudging. There is a lot of sitting around, a lot of slow, unsexy, uninteresting, trudging on with the same things.
There may be other reasons why people want to come. But if they are not driven solely by a love for Christ, a desire to see him glorified and his gospel proclaimed – looking to him only as their source of fulfilment – it won’t be long before such folk are waving us goodbye.