I Don't Want People I Fear
Back in 1996 I began working with the Berry’s Chapel Congregation in Franklin, TN. It was there that I met Jerrie Barber, a man who would mentor me and teach me about the joys and struggles of working with churches. One day we were in his study talking and I was probably complaining about kids, or parents, or deacons, or elders when he told me a story that has stuck with me. I have his permission to share it with you today.
In 1987, Jerrie was working with the Central Church of Christ in Dalton, GA. The congregation hired Ross Jordan to be the involvement minister and at their first staff meeting Ross asked some questions trying to get oriented to the new situation. One of his questions was, "Do you want the church to grow?".
Jerrie said he looked at Ross and asked, "Do you want me to tell you the truth?". "I want the church to grow, but I don't want any more people. I want people to be saved. I don't want anyone to be lost. When they are saved, God will add them to His church. But when they are added to the church, I hope they worship in Chattanooga, or Calhoun, or somewhere else besides Central. If we have more people here, I will have to work harder and I am already working more than I want to work. I realize this is not the best attitude and I am committed to working through those feelings and doing the right thing. But if you want to know how I really feel: I want the church to grow but I don't want any more people."
After working with churches for almost 19 years I understand what Jerrie was saying. There is a bit of difficulty to not only to get new people but to get them acclimated into a family where we are all pretty comfortable with one another. When new folks come, the dynamic of the church changes and we can either see that as a hardship to our way of doing things or we can see it as the blessing God intends for it to be.
Now before you start your inner dialogue let me remind you of the text that Rylan just read from Acts 6. I don’t know many people who like to fight or deal with the stress that comes from growth. And while everyone of us would say that we long for the church to grow. What we must understand is that churches and families cannot grow without some type of conflict. From the very beginning of the Church there has been conflict with Church growth.
Back in our text from Acts 6 this morning we see that the church was growing and facing conflict. The church wasn’t even a year old and they were already struggling with the problem of growth. You see the Hebrews were letting the Hellenists know that they were not wanted in the church. That’s why they were neglecting their widows. The wanted to serve and worship with people that were like them, and the Hellenists didn’t make the cut.
They wanted the church to grow, but they weren’t really sure that they wanted any more people. So what they did was hang out their No Vacancy sign.
It has been my privilege to work and worship with churches from California to New York, Canada to Florida and we are not that far removed from our brethren back in Acts 6. Now we may have different ways of handling it but we still hang out a sign from time to time to let people know that they’re not wanted.
For example there are subtle ways that we handle it.
The first way is called screening: Screening is done by a subtle movement of your body, if someone you don’t want at church comes up to talk to you or the group you are talking with you just turn your body a little so the person is behind you.
The next way is Exclusion and it is a favorite of ours, and a little less subtle. If there are two people talking we approach them and invite one of them to a function (out to eat, over to play cards, to a movie) but not the person they are talking with.
Finally there are Family Secrets; Family Secrets rule the world. There are little things that are taboo in every congregation. And we all know about them but we don’t talk about them.
I worked with a church one time where there were flowers that were placed on a ledge behind the pulpit. Every season a dear sister would change the arrangement just as she has done for the last 40 years. One summer a new family had placed membership and wanted to donate some live flowers to freshen up the place. No one told them about the rule, of not touching the flowers. It wasn’t written down, it wasn’t covered in the new member handbook, but everyone who had been there for a time understood it. This new family went to the building one Saturday and made the mistake of “fixing” the flowers. They took the current flowers down and put 24 red roses in their place. Well about 10 minutes before Sunday School people started rolling in and there was the new family waiting to hear people ohh and ahh about the beautiful flowers. Unfortunately the Ohhs and Ahhs never came and when the “Flower Lady” realized that her original arraignment was moved; the roses accidentally fell into the baptistery.
Then there are non-subtle ways that we let people know that they are not wanted.
In August of 2011 the Ottawa Citizen ran a story about a local congregation that was closing their food bank. Now in these difficult economic times there could be 1,000 different reasons that they would have to close down a benevolent ministry like a lack of funds, a lack of supplies, or a lack of workers. But that’s not the reason they closed.
According to Charlotte Prossen, the minister at the Unity Truth Centre, the reason they were closing was because “It’s attracting a lot of street people that make it uncomfortable and it’s creating social unrest in the church”.
That doesn’t just happen in Canada. We were working with a congregation on the other side of the river that had been doing some door knocking and visiting. One Sunday a woman and her daughter visited with us. The daughter was about 20 years old and she was blind and non-verbal. During the singing the daughter began to clap and make loud grunting noises. While I am sure God was pleased with her joyful noise some of the members of the congregation were not so happy. At the end of the services one of our ladies approached these visitors and told them we would be happy to have them visit again, if she could teach her daughter what appropriate behavior looked like in worship. They never came back.
I know I have shared a lot of stories this morning, but I need you to understand that God’s plan has always been for His church to grow. And it has been in His plan from the very beginning.
Listen to what we read in Daniel 2:44: And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever,
It has always been God’s plan for his people to share their joy and the reason for their peace. But just because it is God’s plan doesn’t mean that we have bought into that plan.
Honestly there are some people that I may not want to come to worship with me because I am afraid of them. Once again that’s nothing new. Let’s look again at another passage from the Book of Acts. This time Chapter 9:26 And when he (Saul) had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.
The church was afraid of Saul and I understand that. His reputation was appalling and the truth couldn’t have been much better. He had hurt and helped kill their brothers and sisters and he was gaining more power every day. As ruthless as he was this had to be some type of trick.
Even Ananias didn’t want the church to grow if Saul was the next to be added. Look in verse 10: Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Here I am, Lord." And the Lord said to him, "Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight." But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name."
Can you imagine how overwhelming it would be to have God appear to you directly? For God to come to you and say I have something that I need you to do. Wouldn’t you be chomping at the bit ready to spring into action? Well Ananias wasn’t as excited when he realized what God wanted.
Can you imagine that the loss that you personally would have suffered if Saul had not been converted. Would there have been another man who could have boldly taken the good news to the Gentiles?
Could another man have been so pliable to allow God to use him to write half of the New Testament. I stand here today full of joy because Ananias let the Lord decide who needed to be in the church instead of him making that decision.
I can’t help but wonder what type of loss the Lord’s Church has felt because of our fear? And honestly, there are some people that I fear. I struggle with the idea of child molesters, and rapist, I worry at times about prostitutes, and drug addicts. But the truth is that we have been blessed in this church by some folks who have lived a rough and difficult life; broken people who have allowed Jesus to make them whole. One of my favorite people, and brothers in Christ used to be an enforcer for a gang. His story has moments that are terrifying and awful, but his story also has forgiveness, and compassion, and grace that compels him to live a life of love and forgiveness.
What if someone like Jeffrey Dalhmer came to this building? Do you remember that monster? He was probably the most disturbed of all of the serial killers in our history. He was convicted to 15 life sentences for murders in Wisconsin, and 1 from Ohio. He not only murdered but he also dismembered his victims and kept parts of their bodies for trophies and cannibalized other parts. Do you believe that there is room in the Lords kingdom for an animal like him?
Thankfully Curtis Booth of Crescent, Oklahoma, and Mary Mott of Arlington, Virginia thought that there was. Both of them sent Bible correspondence courses to Jeffrey while he was in prison. After studying with them he asked to be baptized but they had to find someone close to the prison that had access and that could and would baptize him. They found Roy Ratcliff a preacher in the area who agreed to meet with Jeffery and baptize him for the forgiveness of his sins.
The reactions to the news was somewhat mixed. There were some of us who lifted up praise to God for this remarkable conversion. Then there were some of us who questioned His sincerity. They wondered if he was really converted or if it was just a trick. Can a man who was that horrible really change? Can a leopard really change his spots?
Then there were some of us who felt a little to self-righteous and made statements like, If Jeffrey Dalhmer gets to go to heaven, then I deserve something better.
What we fail to realize is that the same God who really could and did save Jeffrey Dalhmer is the same God that Paul wrote about in 1 Timothy 1:12-17 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen
As awful as Jeffery Dalhmer was, we all have to make the same claim. God says in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. That includes you and me. While our sins may be different, the consequences of those sins are the same. What you have to decide is do you believe that God still has the power to change.
Today do you want the church to grow, if so do you want it to grow here? How many new converts do you want? What kind of new converts do you want? And does God need to check with you before He lets them in?
I believe if we check with God we will see the type of person God wants in His church.
First He wants all who are burdened with sin.
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light Matthew 11:28-30
Next we wants everyone who wants to be saved.
And the Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely Revelation 22:17
So how will we cooperate with Him? Or maybe for the first time we realize that God wants us also. Are you weary? Do you need to come back to your first love? Do you have the desire? Do you need the freedom that can only come by putting Christ on in baptism?