While I was at work the other day, I pulled out a giant flip chart, grabbed a Sharpie, and started writing down questions. A smart guy once said, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.” In a neighborhood like mine, defining reality involves asking a lot of questions.
I wrote things like What is Jesus doing in this neighborhood? and What future does Jesus want for this neighborhood?
These questions are difficult to answer.
What I can say for certain is that Jesus wants to reconcile my neighborhood to himself. That will always be the case. In reality, several obstacles stand in the way of that happening.
I wrote these obstacles down: drugs, hurting schools, sexual promiscuity, sub-par housing… the list is very long.
But, as I mentioned last week, solving these material problems doesn’t reconcile people to Jesus. We could eliminate all drugs and remodel every abandoned house and still be far from God.
And that’s the point, really. The need for reconciliation implies distance from God.
So I flipped the page on my chart and wrote “What makes God God?” I intended to make a list detailing what God does and who God is… the things qualifying him to be God. Then I wanted to list all the ways my neighbors are trying to find these qualities in something other than Jesus.
I was on a bit of a tangent.
That’s when James knocked on the door. I’ve mentioned him before. He’s in his forties but thinks and behaves like a child. I invited him in and he started looking around our new space. He saw my giant notepad and wanted to know what I was doing.
“James, what makes God God?” I asked.
James thought for a second and said, “He’s good.”
I wrote down good. “What else?” I asked.
“He’s our Father,” James replied. Another great answer.
“How so?” I asked.
“Well,” James said, “he gives us what we need.”
I wrote down provider.
By the end of our talk, I had filled an entire page with James’ answers. They were simple answers, but weighty and honest.
I thanked James for his help. He smiled at me and said, “We done had church today!”
In my town, it’s estimated that 70% of the population doesn’t attend church at all. In regards to the kingdom, that statistic is a little discouraging.
But maybe we’re looking at it all wrong.
I’ve known James for over five years, yet I’ve only seen him sit through perhaps four church services. And even then, he’s pretty disruptive.
A church service, like the ones most of us know, will probably never work for James.
But getting to talk about the glorious attributes of God… that is something that makes sense to him.
Beyond that, he gets to participate. He’s part of the conversation.
Part of the family.
Maybe instead of asking, “What percentage of people are interested in attending weekly church services?” we could ask, “What percentage of people want to be included in God’s family?”
This question changes the whole paradigm, and I bet the answer is higher than 30%.
Because when we are looking for new family members, we spend less time trying to get people into a building on Sunday, and more time talking with them about Jesus and his invitation to become a child of God.