Life Story Bad Time Missions Posted October 9, 2020

Ladies and gentlemen, our other epidemic...

I think I have an answer as to why many people today are leaving their church and are hesitant to come back.

As you may know, I am a firm believer of Jesus Christ and every day has me redefining what it means to be a follower of Him. But doubt is Satan’s sharpest arrow, and there came a point in my life when I really believed God was done with me. My hurt came from a place I thought had continually brought people in, raised them up, and sent them out. That’s what a church is supposed to be. Instead, I was part of a country club that treated the rest of the world like it’s on the waiting list to get in.

After graduating from college, I was going to a megachurch in Akron. It had a laid back twenty-something ministry where I was initially bombed with love, but it also had a program that promised to develop me into a leader, or a minister, or perhaps someone of even greater importance. It seemed like the most logical step to take. With the Holy Spirit by my side, where could I possibly go wrong?

But my life soon fell apart in spectacular fashion. I struggled to keep a job, and all I could afford was a closet-sized room within a shared household near Highland Square. The neighborhood I was in was highly unpleasant, and many of the tenants had abrasive and violent behaviors. I was thankful to at least be somewhere away from these people... until I realized that churches are supposed to be the one exact place for them. It became difficult not to notice a lack of people walking around with messed-up teeth, bad hygiene, poor English skills, and "trashy" clothes. In fact, there was nothing to celebrate recovery or any improvement of well-being. It seemed like everyone had their life together, or was incredibly skilled at covering their issues up. The Bible was just another accessory, and any sense of discipleship involved an endless series of petty purity tests.

Once it became obvious I had more to worry about than waiting in line for Starbucks, some hurtful things were said to ensure I would never come back. I’ll never forget the night when I was told, with one finger pointed at Proverbs 12:24, that I could never be a leader. Both my living situation and my job at a gas station were supposedly signs of "lacking diligence." What bothers me the most was how they thought poverty itself wasn't enough of a punishment. I just had to have my hopes and dreams shot down, be pushed back into the gutter, and have the latter yanked above for good measure.

I remained in that shared house for fifteen months. It was so unsafe that I often spent the night in my vehicle instead. But I soon realized that I was the only "Jesus" those tenants might ever see. It took me even longer to get out of my gas station job, but I ended up talking to so many people who would dedicate their lives to Christ for the first time. I have seen even more people break free from their bondages of sin and addiction, and discover their true purpose in life. Somewhere along the way, I’ve discovered mine as well. My hope today is to bring every Christian to an understanding that we are not (and should not be) above bleeding alongside everyone else. If every Christian loved their neighbor as themselves, and if more of us were willing to share God’s love to those who need it the most, we would be that much closer to having Christ's Kingdom here on Earth.

But here is one of the most depressing statistics I know: In a 2017 Washington Post survey, nearly half of Christians (46%) polled said the poor are to blame for their poverty, as opposed to being victims of circumstance. And yes, that number is higher among white evangelicals (53%). That means roughly half of us in America believe that only bad people suffer and they get what they deserve, despite the Bible having dozens of verses that explicitly say otherwise. But I get it. It’s incredibly hard to be imitators of God and to follow His examples of love and forgiveness. It’s incredibly easy to be discouraged by those who are simply awful to be around. I see shelters and soup kitchens open up and close down all the time because too many people waste the help given to them. These people are usually given one chance to mess up before they are harshly judged.

This is where the rubber meets the road. Would you do the same? Would they know you are irritated by them? Or would you pass yourself off as someone who continually cares for them and brushes off their mistakes...

...almost as if you've experienced unmerited grace and acceptance in your own life?