March 9, 2015

Is There Any Future for the Impossibly Hopeless in Our Communities?

Listen to Paul speaking to a church dividing on ethnic and social lines in Ephesians 2:14–17:

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”

Many Christians worldwide attend churches where all sorts of barriers probably still exist, whether it’s between black and white or rich and poor. Judgementalism is the metaphorical doorkeeper that keeps the undesirables and the ‘impossibles’ from entering through the doors of our closely guarded churches.

Answer the following questions honestly when it comes to thinking of the word, ‘impossible’:

  • A homeless man drunk on a bench in a city centre, shouting and swearing at the world. Your next pastor?
  • A neighbourhood tough guy, all tats and attitude, hanging out on street corners, smoking weed. Your next youth pastor?
  • A teenage mother dragging her screaming infant around the supermarket. Babysitting your children?
  • A man with a sign begging for money next to a cash machine. Sent to Bible College by your church elders?
  • A child growing up in a home where both parents are drug users. A deacon in your church?

If we’re honest, aren’t these the kind of people the word ‘hopeless’ was invented to describe? Aren’t people like this the ‘impossible’ ones in our minds-eye when we think of them in comparison to the average member in most churches? All too often we judge people (even if it’s only in our minds-eye) and find them wanting. After all, what hopes and prospects do these people seriously have?

If we’ve answered honestly, then we’ve done two things with this list of people. We’ve categorised those with whom we’re angry and the others for whom we feel sympathy and perhaps some guilt. At worse, we reject the others out of hand. What can we do after all? It’s not our fault and it’s not our problem. That’s the way of it for the ‘poor, marginalised, and rejected’. Otherwise, they wouldn’t fall into those categories, would they?

Shame on us.

I live and work in a scheme. I work with people in desperate situations. Many have been abused. Some are abusers. Some are violent drug users. Some have grown up in the care system. Some are angry. Some are depressed. Some are desperate. Some are quite happy. I guarantee I answered the questions above differently than most of my readers (the honest ones). None of the people in my schemes qualify as hopeless or impossible on my list.

In fact, my list of ‘impossibles’ probably looks quite different to yours.

  • A university graduate with a Masters Degree in theology. Can he make it in the schemes?
  • Somebody who wears slacks and a blazer. How will he cope in a council estate church?
  • A well-dressed young man with impeccable manners and great teeth. Will he make it in a prison ministry?
  • A well-heeled woman who wears expensive perfume and too much make up. Will she make it in a home for recovering prostitutes?
  • A guy who drives a nice car and grew up with both parents. Can he identify with boys at the local reform school?

In my worst moments, they’re the people I often think of as hopeless and impossible. In my world, they are the ‘poor, marginalised, and rejected’. I am tempted to think that these kinds of people are never going to amount to anything in a ministry like mine. They’re failures before they start, and they don’t even know it; they may as well give up now.

Shame on me.

“Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of the others” (Phil. 2:1–4).

The light of these verses needs to shine in the dark recesses of our arrogant hearts. If we want to make an impression on the watching world, then we need to start tearing down the barriers of our own judgemental hearts and start truly coming to grips with the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to reorient our thinking as Christian leaders on all sides of the ethnic and socioeconomic divide. Whether we live in a mansion or a tin shack, we need reach out to God and ask him to clean up the impossible sin and judgementalism of our own lives. All of us, without exception, will stand before the judgement seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). So any thought and discussion on this should be done with an attitude of mutual repentance—regardless of ethnicity, social standing, and employment history.

This article was published (under a different title) in the recent edition of Tabletalk magazine. You can subscribe to the magazine here. 20schemes is grateful for the support of Ligonier Ministries. Check out their website here.

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