I’ve been observing lately in my ministry context the number of times that I hear the question “Can I bring a friend to…?” Now, I work primarily with youth, and I find it interesting and even disheartening that young people believe that they have to somehow seek permission to invite a friend to a church related event. I’m not sure what it is that has created this culture, but I hope that little by little it will disappear.
Maybe it stems from the old “Luther League” youth ministry concept where the weekly youth meetings were primarily geared towards young people who were members of the congregation. There were certain events that were “closed” – only for members of the church, and others that were “open”, or outreach events. The truth is, though, youth ministry can not be done that way. If we are honestly seeking to obey Jesus’ command in the Great Commission, we really need to foster a culture of openness that welcomes all people into our ministry with open arms.
Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples” does not have any strings attached to it. There is no insider/outsider directive that qualifies whom should be made a disciple. No, instead it says “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19) – everyone… all people… the whole world. Jesus’ deepest desire is that the whole world will one day be drawn into a relationship with him, and for many people that will never happen if we continue to maintain a culture that breeds “apologetic discipleship”.
Here’s how I see the discussion often starting (I only know this because I’ve had this conversation):
Hey, so, there’s this thing going on at my church this weekend, and I know you don’t really go to church and all, and I don’t want to get all preachy with you, but if you’re not doing anything else more fun or exciting, do you think you might want to possibly go with me?”
Why is it that we are so apologetic about our “churchiness” when talking to people who aren’t part of it. Is it because we think they won’t know what church means? Is it because we know that much of what they see in the media about Christianity is negative (Pat Robinson, for example)? Is it because we’re afraid of being rejected for our faith? Are we trying to hide the fact that we are disciples of Jesus Christ?
Whatever it is, we need to stop. All of us. Me included.
We need to stop being apologetic about our faith.
We need to stop being wishy-washy about inviting outsiders into the fold.
We need to stop thinking that being in the church is like being part of some sort of closed social club.
Jesus’ message is for everyone, and he wants us to share it with the whole world. That includes people we may not like all that much. That includes people who are different from us. That includes people who might not appear to “fit in” with our current white middle-class church atmosphere.
The last thing I want is to contribute to an insiders-outsiders culture in our youth ministry. I want to make it clear (as I have been trying to for the past year and a half in this context) that nothing in our youth ministry is a “closed” event. Everything we do is an opportunity to welcome a new friend into the love of Christ.
Anybody else have thoughts on this?