Ministry has gotten comfortably uncomfortable.

One of my greatest prayers and passions as a Christian is to be salt and light within a community (Matt. 5:13-16).  While many churches either do missions very well locally or very well globally, I have always believed that a church should be involved both here and there.

At our church, we have an Acts 1:8 mission strategy which involves us in missions at every level.  Some of our partnerships within the community are great to be a part of – from afar.  Due to the sensitive nature of many of the situations, it is safe to support these people from a distance but things change quickly when it gets up close and personal.

When I tell people that a good percentage of our worshipers are either ex-convicts or recovering addicts, the conversation goes 1 of 3 ways:

  1. “Oh my gosh, that is incredible.  I want to be a part of a church like that!”
  2. “Well, that’s nice.”   Awkward pause and walk away knowing that you may never hear from them again.
  3. “Oh, well.  I mean that’s great that they are there, but are you ever worried about one of them might do?”

I am not concerned about what the broken and repentant might do – it’s always the self-righteous and pious that make me nervous.

With the close proximity to those that are struggling so bad, it brings a sense of being comfortably uncomfortable.  You know that it is a loaded scenario, and yet it has never felt so right.  If the church isn’t a hospital for the sick, than what are we doing?  Jesus didn’t come for those who have it all together (Mark 2:17).

Before Christ

The worst kind of Christian is the one who has forgotten what he or she was like before Christ.

Just a reminder – Christ died for us while we were sinners, not after we became saints (Rom. 5:8).  None of us had it together.  No matter what particular sins you had broken, you were guilty of them all (James 2:10).

The pushback is always, “Yeah, I know what you are saying, but they did some serious stuff.  You have to be careful.  They are in trouble for a reason.  We are different from them.”

We should be kind to sinners like “them” because God was kind to sinners like “us.”

While I do not believe there is an us” and “them” when it comes to sinners, we must reorient ourselves to believe that we are all sinners.  A belief that your sins were cute and inconsequential underestimates the severity of your crimes.

Staying Out of Jail

A few weeks ago, I had preached regarding how the gospel deals with both our salvation and sanctification (he forgives us but keeps working on us).  One of those that responded that day came up to me and said,

“Pastor, I just got out of jail on Friday, and you got to help me that I don’t go back there.”

He had been released from a physical prison 2 days earlier but released from a spiritual prison before that.  But he just wanted to stay that way.

On the way home that night, I was telling my sons about the conversation.  While the boys thought it was awesome at first, one of them asked, “Dad, do you know what he did?”

“Yeah, he repented and we are going to help him out.”

“No, what did he do that he went to jail?”

“I don’t know.  It really doesn’t matter.  The only difference between him and me is that I didn’t get caught.”

Looking at the large eyes in the rearview mirror, I took the opportunity to further explain.

Jesus explained that you might not be a convicted killer, but if hatred is in your heart, you are a murderer (Matt. 5:21-22).  You may not have committed adultery in action but you probably have in your mind and in your heart (Matt. 5:27-28).  You may think you are squeaky clean, but Jesus reminds us that the tax collectors and the prostitutes are closer to the Kingdom of heaven than the religious Pharisee type (Matt. 21:31).

Maybe you don’t have the consequences that many of my brothers and sisters do, but I guarantee it’s not because you are better than them.  It’s just you didn’t get caught.

Never forget how far you’ve come.  And if you don’t think you have come that far, you probably aren’t where you think you are in the first place.

Travis Agnew is a Christian, husband, father, pastor, author, blogger, and religion instructor.