when outsiders ask about the goal of outreach…
January 11, 2008
I’m spending my last three days of my short holiday visiting my old friend Pieter. He used to blog here, but in the following weeks you will find him blogging at our new blog teo@up. Last night I went to a youth meeting at the church where is a a pastor with him. Sitting there was a guy I knew from hostel. I remembered this guy from my first year, he was a second year at that stage, and I had to remember his name, but he looked just like another guy, and I always got him name wrong bla bla bla. Those of you who know the system would understand:-) And although he was actually a nice guy, I never imagined him to be the church type.
It was a nice meeting. Currently, in our denomination, many congregations are awakening to the fact that they are called to the world around them, and although it was a youth meeting, they were actually talking about how to help the young people get involved in the community. The places they were looking at was one of the old age homes, and a poor school somewhere. And then this guy suddenly said: “I don’t really understand how churches work, I’m quite new to all this, so please explain to me what the goal of outreaching is?”. Everyone in the group made a contribution. Some said to give something to those that don’t have, others to be the ambassadors of Jesus, or to wash others feet. And after everyone said something, he responded by saying that they haven’t answered his question. They have told him how outreaching work, and why we reach out, but he still don’t know what the goal of reaching out is. I sat there thinking about something Marcus Borg wrote in Heart of Christianity. At one place he says that if you were to ask 100 New Testament scholars from different denominations what the heart of Jesus’ message was, most of them, if not all of them, would say: “The Kingdom of God”, but seldom do we here a sermon on this. Although the term appears over and over again in the synoptic gospels, we don’t really use it, or try to explain it. Usually we just accept that it is synonymous with “heaven”. I wondered why we couldn’t just respond to his question saying that: “The goal is to see the kingdom of God come. This means to help the world change into how it would look if God were king. This mean, in short, that we want to lessen suffering! Yes, we know it is an impossible goal, we know it’s gonna take a lot from us, but this is what we want to see happen.”
I think really putting this goal into words might be a bit too radical, we know it’s simply too difficult, and we know that this would mean that we need to do something about the kids sleeping under the bridge, or about the wives suffering under their husbands, but we are so realistic, that we’d rather not say this. So, we end up lessening the message to something doable.
After the meeting we spent some hours just chatting, and the meeting came up again, and the world, and the challenge of changing this world. And here sat some people, not really into the church thing, not really understanding all the ins and outs not “knowing the songs”. But looking at this whole system, and realizing that this system won’t change the world. I wondered how the little things we are busy with would look to those on the outside, young people in the business world, who know what the biggest challenges of our country is, but never hear this being addressed by the church. I wanted to defend the church, to explain it, but knew that I should rather listen, cause there is a lot to learn from them. And later on this opened the opportunity to also share a picture of the church which I believe is radical, and which might be closer to what these “outsiders” would think church should actually look like: A radical community of change.