I just finished reading The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne. It was an extremely challenging book, one that left me with a nagging feeling that the church as I know it misses out on a great deal of what it means to follow Jesus. Granted, this is something that I feel from time to time anyway, but reading Claiborne’s call to return to a simpler, compassionate, social ministry affected me in ways that I did not anticipate.
One of Claiborne’s more haunting observations is that we in the church are guilty of cultivating a divide between those who claim to follow Jesus and those to whom Jesus calls us to minister: the last, the least, and the lost. “It’s not that people in the church today don’t care about the poor,” he says. “It’s that they don’t know them.” Despite all of our programs designed to clothe/house/feed the poor, there exists a painful distance between those who come to church and those who live on the streets. Claiborne goes on to say that the kingdom of God can be found where these two disparate worlds collide: where the man in the business suit stares into the eyes of a family living in exile, where the wealthy church-goer sits at the same table with a suffering immigrant, or perhaps where a well-educated pastor plays soccer on the street with a homeless child. If his notion of the kingdom of God is right (and I believe it is), then we in the church today usually do a pretty good job of keeping the flint and tinder of wealth and poverty from coming together. We seldom see that tiny spark of God’s kingdom light and catch fire .
I find myself simultaneously wondering 1) how things came to be this way, and 2) what I can do to change it. Claiborne advocates a withdrawal from mainstream organized religion into simpler and smaller neighborhood-oriented house churches. While his vision of what church should be is beautiful, I must admit that I’m not there, yet. I’m not ready to give up on our mainstream churches. Of course, there are times that I get incredibly frustrated that we just spent $100,000 on that stained glass window instead of on low-income housing. I have my moments of disillusion, in which I question whether we will ever really “get it”. I’m convinced that many of our mainstream churches need to be awakened and reminded what it means to follow Jesus. Yes, it does mean hanging out with poor people. Yes, it does mean caring for the homeless. Yes, it does mean reaching out to the Urban Ministry Center, or the Correctional Facility, or the Hospital. It means using less of our resources on ourselves and more of our resources on others. And it also means putting ourselves in a position to look people in the eye, to walk beside them, to shake their hand and offer a shoulder to cry on. Only when the world of wealth and the world of poverty collide can there be a spark, and who knows? It may just catch fire and turn our dusty old echo-filled churches into raging bonfires of true fellowship.
Here’s hoping and praying that the revolution really is irresistible.