After speaking at a rehab and hanging out with some of the residents, I was surprised to find that these 40 guys (most of them less than a month clean from hard drugs) acted more like the church should act than many churches today. I love the church, but there's a lot of wisdom we can glean from these guys. Here's a few things I noticed that would change the game for our churches.
#1- Transparency and vulnerability
In most churches today, we walk around with our halloween costumes on (Yes, even in the cool, contemporary churches). We want people to perceive us as perfect, when all of us know that we are very far from that (Romans 3:23). I had conversations with multiple residents last night who were 100% honest about all kinds of stuff that most churched people would die if anyone found out about them. I heard a pastor say recently, "The church should be a hospital for the sick and a training ground for the healed." What if instead of making church a country club for the fake, we were transparent and vulnerable with our struggles? What if we, as leaders, created environments and a culture of openness, where transparency was not only accepted, but encouraged? But, to do that, we'd have to go first…
#2- Desperation for God
I looked a 25 year old man in the face last night who was streaming tears, shaking, and literally crying out in anguish because he so desperately wanted more of God's presence. He's been in 15+ treatment centers and has never gotten over the pleasures of shooting heroin. The fact is that every human being in this world needs God like that; most of us just don't realize it. If we don't have God, our hearts will stop, our brains wouldn't work, and we wouldn't even exist. Without God, our lives are meaningless and empty. Without God, joy doesn't exist, and life doesn't exist. In many churches today, the point of the gospel is to get fire insurance, make us feel better, and enable us to enjoy our idols (money, success, relationships, etc.) without as much conviction. This is however not the point of the Gospel… the point of the Gospel isn't heaven or a better life or health, wealth, and prosperity… the point of the Gospel is that we get God, which is the only thing that will ever satisfy the deepest longings of our souls. (Psalm 16:11). What if we lived this way, and preached this way?
#3- Real Community
The early church was marked by real fellowship. "And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people." (Acts 2). This is what biblical community looks like, and I'm telling you... that rehab has it down. They lean on each other for everything- laughter, financial help, rides, prayer, etc. The same guy I referenced earlier showed up with only the clothes on his back, and only one sock. He has since been given a whole new wardrobe, everything to meet his needs, and much more. Christian community should be marked by generosity, togetherness, and "3am friends." As leaders, our lives need to model this and we should aim to cultivate this in our churches. We really can't do life alone!
#4- An intense focus on the newcomer
The MO in church is what I've heard called a "Holy Huddle." Keep the insiders happy. Focus on the insiders. We get mad if someone takes our spot in the pew. The music needs to suit our needs. And Lord help us if we play a "secular song" in the service. We don't want messy people around us (or our kids) because we might catch what they have. The only problem with that is Jesus!!! He got His hands very dirty for us. He hung out with drunkards, prostitutes, and sinners. Jesus said, "I came to seek and save the lost." At this rehab, the newcomers get the best seat in the house and are treated like VIP. They get extra attention, extra portions of food (and CAKE!!!), and a majority of the classes/teachings are focused on the newcomer. What if we did this in our churches? What if the environments we created weren't focused on keeping the already convinced, but aimed at seeking the lost so they could become saved? What if our preaching wasn't as much "deep" theological dispositions of the dimensions of the Tabernacle (there is however a place for this), but was pertinent to people's lives and spoken in a language that everyone could understand? What if everything we did in our churches were aimed at reaching people far from God and teaching them how to follow God step by step? Would these guys even be allowed in our churches?
I wholeheartedly believe that Jesus Christ is the hope of the world, and His primary plan to reach the world with the Gospel is through the Church. I love the Church. I was saved in the Church and have been discipled through the Church. I have dedicated my life to serving the Church. Thousands of lives are being changed every day because of the Church. But, how much more effective could we be if we took notes from people like I hung out with last night? Let's reevaluate our mission (Matthew 28) and do WHATEVER IT TAKES to reach people far from God and teach them how to follow Jesus step by step!