Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Exclusively Belonging to Segregated Christian Groups

Monday, February 27, 2006

Exclusively Belonging to Segregated Christian Groups

Over the past several years, one thing that has been a strong, strong caution in my spirit, I believe, is what has too often been my practice and the practice of many others of exclusively belonging in segregated Christian groups, shutting out the other wonderful expressions of Jesus that the rest of His body has to offer.

What do I mean by that? Let me give you some examples:
I am a 16 year old who is an absolutely devoted attendee of my youth group. Lets also submit that I am totally nuts for Jesus. The youth group has every cool bell and whistle that youth ministry has to wizardry, a big budget for big events, fiery preaching, etc. But with school, sports, family life, etc, I go to church on Sunday morning and all, but the real main time I connect is on youth group night. But because we are a 'youth' group...unwittingly, others are excluded. Senior citizens certainly may feel like that is not a place for them. Married couples with kids...well, they are busy...those younger than high school, well, if the insecurities of the high schoolers and or youth leaders pop up and make them feel unwelcome, they are not going to stick around. Thus, except for a few 'leaders,' our youth group ends up being a gathering of 14-18 year olds. There is nothing necessarily 'wrong' about that, but I would like to submit it is a far, far cry from the best, and that, if it is the only connection to church life a 14-18 year old sees in their week, it is actually a horrible tragedy. Nowhere in the new testament does Paul, Jesus, or any of the authors of scripture lay out trying to segregate the gathering of the saints according to age, race, economic background, or gender that I know of. (To be open, when they fed the widows in need daily, they were feeding them, not necessarily 'having the church gathering' so to speak.) Why did the authors not do that?

I would like to submit that they saw the importance of the full expression of Christ being crucial, and that if we do such things, we hinder that from happening. To the point that it did not cross their minds to put it in ink! Even if you have the best group of 14-18 year olds on the planet, one thing that age group will lack, which all of us who have lived through that will know, is wisdom. Wisdom can come supernaturally from God, and also, is learned over time from God. Time is not on the side of youth, in this case! Yet, if our 'youth' gatherings don't have those who can share and equip with true fruit-bearing wisdom from God, isn't that scary? Don't our youth need to be in contact with people like that before they make major decisions like get married, pay thousands for college, move out, enlist in the service, etc?
"Yes, but it could hurt our outreach if we don't have that really 'young person's feel." I am sooo sorry to hear that. But let me ask you this: who cares more about non-Christians, you or Jesus? And if you answered Jesus, don't you then think that a true representation of His body is in order if the lost show up? I mean, isn't it Jesus that we need?
Another point, lets flip it if younger than high schoolers don't show up. Man, it grates me if we as the body don't learn to appreciate the Body...that we are not a respecter of persons, but we highly respect Jesus sharing through ANY part of His body that He deems fit at the moment...and God, forgive me, for any time I did not heed You by ignoring You through a vessel that didn't fit my grid of being pertinent at the moment. Would we want to even take a chance that the youth of our church could develop such thoughts? Or forbid, not realizing we may be training them to have those thoughts by our actions?
Now, just to be clear, let me say this: it is soooo not wrong to belong to a men's group, a ladies group, a youth gathering, a senior citizens group, etc. In fact, that so often can be really healthy, and good. I belong to such gatherings. But what is best is when that is not how I exclusively meet, but even as I gather with those, I belong all week to a place where different ages, sexes, and races in the body of Christ can be heard and known, sharing together, welcomed and accepted.
I think that while most of Christianity woud agree and say 'yes' to my last statement, the hard, hard question I think we need to ask is personally, are we exclusively in 'categorized' gatherings, and do my practices back up that statement, in real life.
This line of thinking can be taken to many other gatherings....for instance, churches that gather in a racially mixed area but that predominantly gather with just one race, denominations as a whole, any gatherings with age perameters, and even focus groups with great motives, such as recovery groups, when those awesome saints never get to contact parts of the body that are not recovering in that particular area. (I totally believe in meetings that have specific areas of focus...what I am getting at, to be clear, is when that is all I gather around, and thus, become ignorant of the rest of the body. I believe in focusing. But I believe in accessing the greater body, as well.)
Does anyone else out there share a hunger like me to see Christ revealed in ways I never have before through His body? Does anyone else hunger to know the intimacies of Christ that maybe a group I have never given much time to or thought have tracked and come to know? Has anyone else ever had the thought, "I have never really taken the time to reflect on what God is saying through the female sisters of Christ in my area/the Hispanic lovers of God in my community that I know/the older saints who have lived life before God and seen Him provide/the youth of my area and the dreams and aspirations God is putting in them...etc.
It takes time. It takes deliberate acts. It may very well take change in me. I signed on to know God and His body...not just the side of God that is revealed in my economic/social/racial/gender-specific/age categorized background. How about you?
As a side note, I fully recognize and happily so, that God has used such gatherings. He certainly has in my life. I thank God for that! However, I am not afraid to come to a point where I recognize what God has used, and I still ask of Him, "What is Your best, God, and what do You want to do in my life and the life of others."

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