Most of you know that I write a regular community column for the Tampa Tribune. I interview a broad variety of people, but at least every other week or so I'll sit down and chat with a preacher.
This week I interviewed the head of staff at a healthy, busy church with it's roots in the late 19th Century "Restoration Movement". If you're interested in history, the Restoration Movement spawned The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Church of Christ.
I asked the preacher what fundamental idea was central to his ministry, and tears came to his eyes. He shared a story with me from his previous congregation back in Kentucky. He had hired a young man to lead worship...
...Things were humming along nicely until the Sunday the new worship leader invited a friend to accompany a solo on guitar. The guitar player had been badly burned by "religiosity" in the past, this was his first visit to a church in years, and the worship leader was excited to share the life and the message of his new faith community. (No, it wasn't the late great Larry Norman, but his picture is a good representation of the point!)
Sunday evening, several church leaders called an emergency meeting. Two prominent families were threatening to leave the congregation. Why? Well, the visiting guitar player upset them. Apparently it was his jeans and his flannel shirt; not only that, but the young man had long hair. The ultimatum was laid down - either the worship leader had to be fired immediately, or they would leave the church.
"I'll miss them," the pastor said, wisely.
"But these families are big givers," the church leaders countered. And the decision was made.
The situation broke the young preacher's heart, and he almost left the ministry. Instead, after several weeks of heart-searching prayer, he heard God's distinct calling to be a part of the solution, and to do a better job of presenting a Gospel that loves out loud.
Or, as Jesus put it in today's scripture -"Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17: 25-26)
How is the world EVER going to know God if we do not love with the love Jesus represented? Too much of the religious world is still defined by what (and who) it is against. The love that led Jesus to the cross is all about invitation - not rejection.
With love - the Jesus kind of love - DEREK