If you’ve seen me speak in the last few months you might have noticed a bit of a change in my attire. Instead of a nice pair of jeans and a blazer you might have noticed my hat worn backwards coupled with earrings in my ears. What I’m about to share with you is the reason why.
My wife and I have made a habit of randomly showing love to strangers wherever we go. It could be a waiter/waitress at a restaurant we’re visiting or a homeless person on the street asking for money. We’re not always the most consistent with this, but we have quite a few stories we could share. One of these stories is about this time when we decided to go on an adventure downtown and we saw this beautiful young lady sitting on the ground asking for money. Immediately we were moved with compassion and decided to invite her to come with us to get something to eat and then proceeded to give her some money. While we were sitting down getting to know this amazing young lady it came out that we were “church attendee’s” and she went on to mention how there have been times when she’s walked into a church and people have simply stared at her because of her piercings, tattoos, and how she was dressed, ultimately making her not want to immerse herself in that kind of an environment.
Another time I had the incredible opportunity to speak at a memorial funeral service with 100+ bikers inside of a Walmart Parking-Lot. Afterwards several of them came up to me and made statements like “I would never step foot inside of a church, but I would come to your church,” or “I’m not welcomed in churches,” etc. Keep in mind many of these guys and girls were saying they came from pretty hard backgrounds and if I can be stereotypical for a moment, they also looked like it.
Then I would hear outrageous statistics about abortion rates within the church and how studies have shown that abortion is highest where religion is highest… (insert screeching car sound effect here). Say what??? How does that happen? I thought church was supposed to be a safe place. I’d walk through downtown Toronto and see “Christians” on street corners yelling at people with signs in their hands telling them they’re going to hell. I’d even engage a few of them in conversations asking them how effective they’re evangelism attempts had been, often times they didn’t have much to speak of. I’d get into conversations with young people in bars about me being a Christian and at first I was written off because of their previous experiences/encounters with people who profess Christ.
Fast forward a few months and my wife and I find ourselves deciding to visit some prominent churches in our city, as well as churches that I’ve spoken at in the past. She would wear a mini-skirt, I would wear some baggy jeans with a hat put on backwards, with big diamond earrings in my ears, and it’s as though we automatically appeared like we didn’t know much about how “church worked.” In almost every single church no one would say hi to us, people would simply stare at us, I had people in services tap me on my shoulder and tell me to take my hat off… Some of my Pastor friends didn’t even recognize it was me and were absolutely shocked when I revealed myself. All in all… most places left me not wanting to ever come back. I remember in one service I couldn’t even focus on the message because I was so infuriated as to how this one lady treated me. I wanted to tell her off out of some misplaced sense of pride, but I managed to keep it together. Then I got it.
I began to understand why an entire generation can feel more loved and welcomed in a club than in a church. We preach revival, we talk about reaching people, but how many Christians are really stepping into the ‘dark places’ of our city and shining their lights? How many Christians only have “Christian” friends, go to “Christian” events, and speak “Christianeze.” Are churches really ready for the day the prostitute walks into church after she just finished her night shift? Or when the back of the church smells like weed and alcohol because we’re serious about “ALL are welcome?” Or the day when you can’t leave your purse on the seat during worship because that visitor might just steal your wallet? Healthy perspective: That’s a good problem to have. For the first time as a Christian I poorly attempted to put my feet in the shoes of “non-christians” and I confess… I would have probably written off church/organized religion if I wasn’t already a Christian.
I think Ghandi said it best, “I would have become a Christian until I met one.” The will of God is always displayed in Jesus but not always in his followers. We as Christians do a really good job of screwing that up. It’s as though church has become about good meetings and good music, and unless you look like, talk like, and act like me, then we cannot walk together, be seen together, or hang out. We’ve created this movement, this culture that is so anti the very world we are called to help. We’ve demonized celebrities, stepped out of society, and we’re afraid to come close to what some people call “darkness.” Show me Jesus in that. Can you imagine if they had social media in Jesus’ day? Instagram, facebook, or twitter? Someone would have taken a picture of a prostitute washing Jesus’ feet and someone would have posted it online and it would be an absolute media frenzy. Jesus wasn’t afraid to touch that which the people of his day would call unclean! He sat with sinners, was even called their friend. Religious leaders thought he was a sell out. By the way, I’m pretty sure he dressed like a modern Jew in his time.
Now… I don’t hate church, and not all churches in Toronto are like the churches I described in this blog. This is just a title to catch people’s attention. I love church. I find myself falling in love with this awesome church plant downtown called C3 Toronto. A church filled with broken people, who don’t have it all together, but genuinely love Jesus and are allowing him to better their lives and the lives of those around them. I’ve realized that some of the sweetest worship doesn’t come from the most perfect people, but from some of the most broken people who simply recognize they need him the most. I’m not sure where the invisible wall we’ve created in churches that says “unless you act like us and dress like us, you don’t belong,” comes from, but it’s so far from anything I see in the life of Jesus. This blog isn’t an attempt to bash churches, or speak negatively of organized religion, but to some of my friends who are Pastors, I hope it’s more of a challenge. When we preach this message of unconditional love do we live it when people step through our doors? When was the last time we decided to go and hang out where the “Zacchaeus'” of our day hang out? Would we even go to their home if they invited us? This is why some of my modern day heroes are guys like Carl Lentz, the pastor of Hillsong Church in New York City, who we just had the privilege of visiting during our stay in New York. Thousands of misfits, x-gangsters, celebrities, hipsters, gather together for 7 services in rented out clubs right in the hub of the concrete jungle. He’s got a lot of haters, but religious people always despise people who do things they are afraid to do. I’ve gotten emails from people and had conversations with individuals who think I’m crazy, are concerned with the way I dress, and I find myself feeling a bit more like Jesus, and to me they’re beginning to look a lot more like Pharisees :s.
To all those who wouldn’t consider themselves Christians and are reading this post, on behalf of the church, I want to apologize for the way you’ve been treated. I hope that our actions don’t serve as a barrier that stop you from being able to receive the authentic and unconditional love of Jesus. You are loved, you are wanted, and you belong. To the Christians reading this post, take a look inwards and evaluate your life. Your city needs you to communicate and display the truth in love. If it is truth without love it isn’t the truth, and it isn’t the gospel.
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