“Go For The Weirdest”
I think the biggest mindset change that has happened in my first year of officership is my inclination towards a certain group of people. I have spent the majority of my life in middle to upper-middle class corps. These were places that had full brass bands and a large songster brigade and were late to the game with a praise team because it was too new and didn’t fit with the old way of things. Essentially, the churches I went to were (what I imagine to be) the quintessential American church.
And, for the record, there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, I loved these corps! When I envisioned my life as an officer, it was serving at these middle/upper-middle class churches. And, if I’m completely honest, I was afraid of the corps that didn’t fit that mold.
Inside these middle/upper-middle class churches were always one or two weird people. Not just quirky, but people who didn’t fit in with the majority demographic of the church. Often they were greeted as they should have been and shown a decent amount of courtesy, but I don’t know if they were always a part of the church…if that makes any sense.
I bet you know the type. These are the people who raise their hand in Sunday School and everyone shakes their head (inwardly or outwardly) thinking, “Oh great, what are they going to say today?” Then the Sunday School teacher has to listen for 5 minutes before they can get a word in and try to steer the conversation back to the material because the person just rambled on and on until they were on a completely new and unrelated subject.
It just happened in my office about thirty minutes ago. Someone came in and wanted to talk. I got about a total of four words in as she talked about not having a fridge, the start of WWI, how her husband died overseas but she things it was her husband’s twin brother, her struggle with schizophrenia, being healed over the tv by televangelist, the problems she has with presbyterians, and a whole lot more…for about an hour.
And in the midst of her talking, abruptly jumping from topic to topic without segue, I realized something. All through my journey to fulfill my calling, inside my head was this ideal corps that was a middle/upper-middle class church filled with normal people whose problems were credit card debt and secret, but manageable addictions, and which colleges they want their children to attend. But here I am in a corps that has more than a few people like this lady who can talk for hours about nothing because all she wants is someone to listen to her. And. I. Love. It!
My wife and I were a little concerned when we came here because, at last count, there were 82 Christian churches in a town of 20k people. I joke with my fellow officers that, when evangelizing, the question isn’t, “Do you know Jesus,” as much as it’s “What church do you attend?” So we thought that any church growth that happened was probably going to be at the expense of another church.
But then we started our kids programs and discovered all these trailer parks full of kids (and adults, for that matter) that didn’t go to church anywhere and were desperate to come to our corps because they knew that their friends were going to be there and they’d be accepted and loved.
Sadly, that last part hasn’t always been the case. We’ve had people leave because the kids (and a few adults too) don’t live up to that middle/upper-middle class church standard. They don’t dress the way they’re supposed to. They don’t sit the way they’re supposed to. They don’t have the same hygiene habits. Sometimes they don’t even have shoes on when they show up. It pains me to see a small group of people driven away because of these new people who don’t fit the mold…but there are 81 other churches that fit the middle/upper-middle class church mold they’re looking for.
So I’m left with the question: what do I do with these people who don’t fit the mold? Do I tell them that they have to meet a certain expectation in order to attend? They have to shower before they come? They have to wear shoes? They can’t talk during church? They can’t raise their hand during Sunday School?
On a side note: Answering yes to those questions above, as many churches do (implicitly or explicitly) is the reason why there are people who believe they don’t belong in church. It seems obvious but it’s something that we lose sight of.
I had a guy come up to me after church one day and say quietly and ashamedly, “I don’t belong here. These are all good people and…well I still smoke.” And my heart broke because I have failed as a pastor when there are people who think they have to live up to a standard in order to be welcome at my church.
Right? I HAVE FAILED AS A PASTOR WHEN THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO THINK THEY HAVE TO LIVE UP TO A STANDARD IN ORDER TO BE WELCOME AT MY CHURCH!
Please! Come to my church! You can come in a three piece suit, a dress with big ol’ hat, or a tank top and shorts that haven’t been washed in a month. And, you know what? Go ahead and forget to silence your phone. Ask me questions mid-sermon. Fall asleep. Sing too loudly. Sing off key. Don’t sing at all. Just know that you’ve found a place that loves you and wants you to know Jesus.
William and Catherine Booth, founders of The Salvation Army, are listed in a book of 131 Christians You Should Know. In it, the author writes of William, “He and Catherine became itinerant evangelists in Wales, Cornwall, and the Midlands, Britain’s “burned-over” districts. The Booths preached in naphtha-lit tents on unused burial grounds, in haylofts, in rooms behind a pigeon shop—anywhere to fulfill his famous words, “Go for souls and go for the worst!””1
I like to think that he wasn’t just talking about the worst sinners, but the worst that society has to offer. May I be so bold as to amend his statement to say, “Go for souls and go for the worst, and the weird, and the smelly, and the rambunctious and the ones no other church wants.” Because we have failed if we make people feel like they have to live up to a standard in order to be welcome at our church.
It seems like this is a constant theme in the New Testament. People come to Jesus and are not the kind of people who seem like they should be in His presence. Cripples (Mark 2:1-12), beggars (Mark 10:46-52), lepers (Matthew 8:1-4), tax collectors (Luke 19:1-10), unclean women who suffer from bleeding (Luke 8:40-48), children (Matthew 19:13-15) all come to Jesus and all are accepted, loved, healed and transformed by Him (often to the astonishment of those around Him).
One story like this stands out to me. Matthew 15:21-28 says, “Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.” But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.” But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once.”
This is what it is to encounter Jesus: to know that we don’t live up to the standard of God’s holiness and to seek Him anyways, knowing that He wants to make us holy. And I fear that, too many times, there are well-meaning people like the disciples who want to send away those who don’t belong. They don’t believe these people are worthy of God, not realizing that all of us, like the Canaanite woman, are no better than dogs in comparison to Him. And He still loves her. And He still loves us.
Do we show that love and acceptance to the modern day equivalent of these outcasts? Are they welcome in our churches?
I always envisioned my officership to take place in an upper-middle class church, but the longer I’m here, the more I’m impassioned to go for the souls, and go for the worst, the weirdest, the smelliest, the rambunctious and the ones no other churches want. Because we have failed if we make people feel like they have to live up to a standard in order to be welcome at our church. He accepts us just as we are.
Just as I am, without one plea,
But that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bid’st me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come!
Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come!
Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings within and fears without,
O Lamb of God, I come!
Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need in thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come!
Just as I am, thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve,
Because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come!
Just as I am, thy love unknown
Has broken every barrier down,
Now to be thine, yea, thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come! 2
1 131 Galli, M. (2000). 131 Christians everyone should know. Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman.
2The song book of the Salvation Army (American ed.). (1987). Verona, N.J.: Salvation Army National Headquarters.