I want to share some thoughts that have been rolling around in my head for a while. These thoughts are in the process of being formed but aren’t fully formed yet.
I’m feeling uncomfortable with a competition that seems to be happening in the church world these days. It is most noticeable at leadership/church planting/ministry type conferences. Speaker after speaker will get up and talk about the type of “sinner” their church is reaching. They don’t actually use the word sinner but opt instead for words like fringe, forgotten, notorious, scandalous, etc. Or they will name certain behaviors or identifying characteristics to describe people. And now this trend is filtering into pastors and churches.
What’s my problem with all of this? It’s turning into a game of my sinners are worse than your sinners. Mine are real sinners. And it seems that the only reason to bring this information up is to prove that our ministry is more real or more cool or more whatever than some other ministry. “We are doing real ministry because we are reaching fill-in-the-blank-type-sinners and you aren’t so you are doing something less than us.” We would never say it that way – but that’s kind of what we are saying. My sinners are worse than your sinners so my ministry is better than or more real than your ministry.
It’s funny. We talk about how God doesn’t rank sins when we think someone is making too big a deal about one behavior or another but if it helps boost our image or stroke our ego, we seem ok with ranking sins. We can’t have it both ways.
And the story we end up telling each other isn’t Good News. Because we aren’t really talking about what God is doing in our midst. Our focus is us and how cool or spiritual or real or whatever we are and our ministry is. The glory is ours because we are reaching “those” people.
And just as bad or worse, not only is the story not about God, it isn’t even about the people we are reaching. In this competition, people are reduced to a trophy of sorts. A prize we polish up and trot out to prove to others how good we are. That is so wrong. We need to stop it.
The real downside of this competition and whatever it feeds in us is that it may cause us to miss the people God has placed us around – those who need Jesus – as we run off looking for better sinners. Look, if God has placed you around a certain group or type of person, I would hope that you would do your best to love reach out and minister to them – share and be Good News for them. And we all need to be looking for the “least of these”. But let’s not ignore or look down on the regular old sinners that are also on our pathway. They need the Good News too.
If your church has a target group, that’s fine as long as God has led you to that ministry. But make sure everyone is included in your sharing of the Good News. And please – if God has called you to love and serve a certain group or type of person, please don’t make them props in your own image story. Your call is more important than that and they are more valuable than that.
Let’s opt out of this competition between churches and ministries. Let’s focus on the call to go and make disciples.
Director of Church Health, FMCIC