What might it mean that all are sought? We pick up the conversation from last week where we discussed the idea of “all are welcome.” If the church, and its congregations are going to actively claim that “all are welcome,” I believe it needs to take seriously the conception that “all are sought.” So what might this mean?
It starts in a missional understanding of scripture. We confess and profess that we believe in the Triune God. This has implications. By believing this, we profess and believe that God is active in the world. God is present, and to be theologically accurate, omnipresent. It’s not a question of “where is God,” it’s rather a question of “what is God up to” or “what might God be up to here?” This might be in regard to external things, what we are noticing happening out in the community or larger world. This might be in the lives of another person we meet. It could even be within the lives of our family, friends, and even… ourselves. If we truly believe that God uses us, and calls us as co-creators with God, then we are part of something which God might be up to.
With that question in mind, some people claim that they are seeking for God. The funny thing is, God is seeking them. It’s like the gospel lesson from a couple weeks ago (Lectionary 24C), Luke 15:1-10. In this passage we hear the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin. There is joy that comes from the seeking and the finding, even if its just one lost coin (or one person). Further, there is no limit to what God will do to search you out. Likewise, there is no limit of God’s love for you.
If God is seeking all, then what does that mean about us? Are we to seek too? If we are God’s co-creators, then that means that we participate in God’s work in the world. So, I would believe by extension, yes, we are to seek too. But what does this seeking look like? Is it like the evangelism ideas of the past- knock on doors and tell people to come to church? This might work. But I don’t think its necessarily the best approach. Rather, let me expand on an idea of accompaniment, something the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America seems to be moving towards embracing more and more.
Accompaniment means literally meeting people where they are at, and walking alongside them, being an embodiment of God’s limitless love. By it’s very nature it implies a multi-directional relationship. No longer is it the “I know the truth so listen to me,” its rather a “what do you think and feel? This is what I think and feel…” There is a sense of mutuality, and a willingness to be authentic, honest, humble, and transparent. I could say much more about accompaniment, but I am going to save that for another upcoming blog post.
Before we close this reflection though, what are some of the barriers and potential barriers for the idea of “all are sought?” I would say the greatest barrier is fear. There is the fear of the unknown. There is the fear of change or the potential changes that might come from meeting new people, engaging others, and welcoming new experiences and perspectives. There may also be a fear of simply not knowing how to go out, listen, talk and engage.
Other barriers might be economics. By reaching out beyond the walls of the church, we have to admit that every person has a different economic and social standing, place, and perspective in our earthly society. Considering all statistics, 1 out 7 people in our country might be considered in poverty. (The US census lists that the poverty line for a family of four as of 2012 was $23,364. If you do some basic calculations, you can see how this number is likely far too small when trying to consider the basic costs for food and shelter needed to sustain life in our current economy.) What kind of a barrier might this present? Look at your congregations and think about how many things you do that involve either a transaction or payment of money, a cost to participate, or a “free will” offering. Think about how “free will” offerings aren’t always free will, because of the guilt and shame that can be felt by not putting some money in a free will box or basket.
Some congregations have scholarships to get around these sorts of situations, but have you thought that this too can be a barrier. Because one has to verbalize their need for the scholarship and risk the feeling of inadequacy and shame (whether existing or just self-induced) by making known their situation. If any of this sounds like it might hit home, I really encourage you to think about why your congregation uses and seeks money and funds in this way? Might there be better ways? Does a congregation really need to charge people to participate in confirmation and Sunday School or an adult education opportunity? How does that really jive with a conception of “All are welcome,” or “come as you are?”
Another barrier can be our cultural and ethnic heritages. Yes, telling stories and jokes about Ole and Lena can be appropriate and helpful. But perhaps using those stories, and having a Lutefisk dinner may not be the most accessible way to show welcome and that a church is seeking out, when its larger community has no relation or connection to that ethnic experience. Might there be ways to bridge this barrier of ethnic and cultural heritages? Further, in our church practices and worship, we have so much “insider” language and things, if we can’t explain them and actively explain them, how do we expect some one who is new to this sort of expression to understand what we are doing and be able to participate in it?
In terms of participation, a barrier that I believe has resulted from church practice is that there is now a sense by some and idea that ministry is something for the professionals. It’s such a shame, because it contradicts greatly with any conception of the priesthood of all believers that many Lutherans claim to hold. What I mean by this is that over time, there has been the assumption by some in the congregation that the professionals on staff know what they are doing, and to just let them do their thing as ministry. The problem is, as a congregation every person has a role and roles to play and serve. This is an expression of one’s vocations. If the professionals simply end up doing the ministry, ministry becomes something passive and its just the role of a few to help and serve and do the seeking.
A final barrier might be really a sense of rigidness. Some congregations or people in a congregation at least might have an unwillingness at times to adapt and be adapted by the body of Christ. This might be an extension of fear, or an unwillingness to be changed or further shaped when joined in community by people of other experiences and perspectives. If all are sought, we certainly cannot assume that all people are like us and will do exactly as we would like them to do. If that’s the case, that’s not really a healthy or authentic relationship. It’s certainly not an example of accompaniment.
There is certainly much to chew on here. I did not mean to make this post sound so harsh, but sometimes we have to admit our shortcomings in order to grow. Perhaps in this sense this post might be our confession- a confession of the way we have done some things and fallen short. It might also be our act of coming, reconciling, and admitting that we want to change and grow. We’ll explore this further within our reflection of accompaniment in the next post of this series. Until then, what do you think? What strikes you amid this pondering? What resonates with you? What leaves you with more questions? What might you not agree with at all? I look forward to the continued conversation. Until then, blessings and peace!