I traveled last week, and in my travels, I encountered three different people. Three people with their own stories and their own complicated relationships with the Church. Three people I have felt compelled to pray for. Let me share a bit of their stories.
First, I met Brian. Brian is thirty years old, and currently serves in the U.S. Army. His father left when he was a toddler, and in the years that followed, Brian's mother moved them around as she married two more times. Brian did not grow up in the church, but considers himself a Christian today. Brian has found community in the U.S. Military.
A couple of days later, I met Teresa. Teresa grew up in the Church, her parents faithfully taking her to church every Sunday. Yet as an adult, Teresa has no desire to be part of the Church. "It just doesn't seem important," she told me. "I don't need to be part of a church to follow God." Teresa and her husband share their lives with friends and neighbors.
Finally, I met Jake. Jake, I was surprised to learn, grew up in a Christian Reformed congregation. After graduating college, he could no longer take what he calls "the oppressive culture of the CRC." He moved south, and now belongs to a Pentecostal congregation. An active Christian, he loves God and serves as a leader in his church.
I have changed the names and some of the facts to disguise their real identities, but the stories of these three people, and their relationships with the church, are no less real. Each one of these people was once part of a community that shaped their faith, but ultimately, two of them no longer saw the need for it, and one rejected our denomination. As a pastor, I wish differently for them.
I wish that Brian was part of a Christian community.
I wish that Teresa recognized the value of church.
I wish that Jake knew the CRC that I know.
But my wishes for them do not translate into their desire to be part of the Church that I love. That will only come through what God does, and we can see God at work most clearly through our prayers, in Scripture, and our relationships. It is easy to meet and care for people like Brian, Teresa, and Jake, and get discouraged. It is much more difficult to commit to being in relationship with them, and loving in ways that demonstrate Christ's love for them, that show them the beauty of the Church and the belonging they can find in the CRC.
How can we in the CRC be a community for those who walk away, for those who don't see the need to belong to a church, or those who don't see the CRC as the answer to their need for belonging? In what ways can our Christian Reformed congregations meet people where the are and offer the hope of the gospel?