One of my childhood lessons was “never steady a BB gun by resting the barrel on an electric fence.” All was well, until I completed the circuit by touching my finger to the metal trigger. My elbow kicked like a mule and my brain has never forgotten.
All of us have our moments–and if we survive we become cautious. For some people cautiousness kicks in when they near a church. A bad experience with church or even no experience with church is enough to lead a those who is seek a connection with God to be cautious when it comes to church. As congregations our job is to build inviting paths rather than set up electric fences. Truth is, we’re usually really good at opening the gate for those who feel comfortable within a church. But, the some of the simplest things can jolt those new to church.
Familiar words to us can be jolting to others. “Narthex, Fellowship Hall, Chancel Area” are church-words that can leave a non-churched person feeling out of place. My theology professor and adviser in seminary warned, “those who get As in theology often don’t do well as pastors.” He reminded us everyday theology words like Heilsgeschicte and Eschatology can be barriers even for people steeped in the life of the church. He challenged us to know what such words meant so well that we would not have to use them. He pushed us to find ways of paraphrasing even their English translations: “Salvation History” and “the Ultimate Destiny of the Soul(s) of Humanity.”
Our February focus at Grace Church is “Jesus’ Invitations to Us.” It turns out Jesus’ invitations to us are often invitations to be more inviting. How do we live life so we’re not the jolting electric fence but the beautiful gateway to a life-giving relationship with God? Each week we’ll take at a part of the arts of welcome and invitation. The Bible tells of God speaking to a boy named Jeremiah. “God touched his mouth and said, ‘I am putting my words in your mouth. This day I appoint you…to dig up and pull down, to destroy and demolish, to build and plant.'” (Jeremiah 1:9-10) I think those words mean God sent Jeremiah to dig up and pull down barriers that keep people from knowing God; I think God called Jeremiah and still calls to church to build andplant the foundations for bridges and paths that lead people into meaningful relationships with the God who made us and loves us.
How will you and I speak inviting, bridge-building words today?
Blessings, Pastor Roger