Rebecca Manley Pippert in her book, “Out of the Saltshaker,” writes about a student she met when she was living in Portland, Oregon. He was rather eccentric, but brilliant. His hair was always messy and no matter what the weather, he never wore shoes. As you read her account ask yourself, “How would my church respond in such a situation?”
There was a well-dressed middle-class church across the street from the campus that was in the process of trying to figure out how to reach more college age students.
One day Bill decided to worship there. He walked into this church, wearing his blue jeans, tee shirt and of course no shoes. People looked a bit uncomfortable, but no one said anything. So Bill began walking down the aisle looking for a seat. The church was quite crowded that Sunday, so as he got down to the front pew an realized that there were no seats, he just squatted on the carpet –perfectly acceptable behavior at a college fellowship, but perhaps unnerving for a church congregation. The tension in the air became so thick one could slice it.
Suddenly an elderly man began walking down the aisle toward the boy. Was he going to scold Bill? My friends who saw him approaching said they thought, “You can’t blame him. He’d never guess Bill is a Christian. And his world is too distant from Bill’s to understand. You can’t blame him for what he’s going to do.”
As the man kept walking slowly down the aisle, the church became utterly silent, all eyes were focused on him, you could not hear anyone breathe. When the man reached Bill, with some difficulty he lowered himself and sat down next to him on the carpet. He and Bill worshiped together on the floor that Sunday. I was told there was not a dry eye in the congregation.
As this man walked alongside of his brother and loved him with all that he had received from Christ’s love, so must we. This man was the Good Samaritan. He made Bill feel welcome, feel as if he had a home. So he also knew the secret of the parable of the prodigal son: there finally is a homecoming, because we really have a home to come to.
There are a lot of churches that would’ve done the opposite. Such churches are more interested in maintaining the dress code than reaching new people for Jesus Christ. Sometimes it’s too easy to focus on the outside without looking at what’s on the inside.
That old man was willing to enter the young man’s world and sit down right along side of him. That’s exactly what we’re called to do both inside and outside the church. At the heart of being incarnational is loving people. We are to love people in the same way Jesus loved people. You want to be a GREAT evangelist? It’s not a matter of going to seminary, but simply walking in love. St. Augustine said, “Preach the Gospel at all times… if necessary use words.” Now I do believe it is necessary at some point to use words. The point is how you live speaks just as loud as the words you use. Our job is to love them till they ask us WHY? Jesus said in John 13:35, “by this all men will know you are My disciples if you have LOVE for one another.”
Here’s hoping that more characters like the one Rebecca writes about will come stumbling into our churches to shake us up a little.