I received a call recently from a man living several states away from me in the USA. As he spoke with me, I could discern that something was bothering him. I could hear it in his voice. Do you know what I mean? His initial discussion was just introductory; how are you? I am fine; the weather is changing, etc. But the speed and tone of his voice sounded like a backpacker hiking 50 miles uphill with 75 pounds of gear on his back. After several minutes of some good small talk, the weighted voice on the other end of the line said, “The reason I called was to ask you about something I experienced at my Church the other day, and I wanted to ask you about how you would handle something like this.”
My conversation soon turned to the subject of the burden I sensed he was carrying. He proceeded to tell me what happened at his Church and how he was directly involved with it all. I think I can sum up the experience without having to tell every detail of the situation.
He proceeded to tell me how he encountered a young lady wandering around the church lobby and communion prep room of the Church. She was clearly under the influence of some drug, underdressed for the winter conditions, dirty and messy, and helping herself to the communion elements, as she was hungry. She was not violent or causing any crucial circumstances to frighten or threaten anyone. My caller told me that he proceeded to address her with kindness carefully; he asked her if he could help her with anything. (This is a challenging situation to encounter during a church service, how would you respond to a scene/person like this?) As she began answering him, the police immediately arrived and arrested her and began escorting her out of the Church. It became clear that some people from the Church had called 911 earlier and asked the police to deal with this stranger. The man on the other end of my phone told me that this young woman told the police that she was cold, hungry, and wanted to go to the Church service, and she resisted a little bit from being taken back outside into the cold. She was placed under arrest and escorted out anyway. This young woman is known in the community by the police. It was not the first time someone called the cops on her. It seemed she would prefer to go to a warm jail and have food than wander the cold winter streets. What we do know is that this young, drugged-out woman has a background of being sex trafficked, abused, drug addictions, theft, and other troubles. Would you agree with me that something deep inside her soul told her that she should step inside a Church building as soon as she could?
The man on the phone then proceeded to tell me what the officer said, after being told by this young lady say she wanted to stay for the Church service…
The man I was talking on the phone with said, “that phrase hit me like a ton of bricks.” At that moment, I now understood why the caller sounded like he was carrying such a heavy burden.
After hearing the officer make that pronouncement, my caller tried to tell the officer that her statement wasn’t technically true. The officer looked at him quickly, cuffed the young woman, and escorted her out of the Church. The words and quick look from the officer pierced him as he realized that this woman wasn’t welcome here, and her removal by the police proved it.
I now understood why the caller sounded like he was carrying such a heavy burden. I am grateful he called me, and I am thankful that I got the privilege to help this man carry his burden. Nobody should carry loads alone, not this caller, not the young woman arrested, not you. Jesus says it best.
After hearing the story, I told this man how he couldn’t do much of anything else once the police arrived. I encouraged him not to be so hard on himself, and we then strategized about his next steps. Clearly, the Holy Spirit prompted my caller to contemplate the culture and circumstances that caused the cops to be called at his Church and then instruct this woman that she was not welcome at this Church.
We talked about a what-if. What if this woman was Jesus in disguise? If not Jesus, then maybe an angel disguised? What if this whole scenario was God testing the Church regarding how they treat someone described as one of society’s, ‘least of these.’
My caller was haunted for days regarding that officer’s statement.
I am confident you will agree that the very worst declaration the officer could have said to the woman at this church service was declared. My caller and I spent some time simply talking about the state of the Church in America today and its faithfulness to the teachings and commands of Jesus. Our tone was not judgmental; instead, it was a tone of burden. Our final discussion before we hung up was about his strategy regarding what to do about this whole disheartening scenario. We brainstormed what we wish would have happened with this young woman, a least of these, drunkenly wandering into the Church service.
I wish that Church would have had a deliberately strategized and practiced plan of what to do if this young lady walks through their doors, especially if it happens on a Sunday morning. We talked about who was responsible for setting the tone and culture that would immediately take notice of this young lady, in her terrible condition, as she limped into Church on Sunday morning. I wish the Church had a plan to respond to this woman immediately.
How amazing would it have been if those present were trained and prepared to approach this young woman with a blanket? Add to that a warm cup of coffee or hot chocolate, a small room to sit and feel safe. Add to those a strategized team of ministry volunteers equipped with resources, security training, medical personnel, phone numbers, plans, and follow-through to help this young woman recover if she is willing to receive the help. Is this too much to ask for from the Church? Is it fair for me to ask the following questions? Isn’t the Church supposed to be a Hospital for the sick? A Coastguard for the drowning? A Refuge for the threatened and fleeing? A Clothing shop for the naked? A Water Well for the thirsty? A Friend for the lonely? A Family for the orphan? It is also a gathering for the body of Christ. It is also a school for the disciple. We are the Church. The previous descriptors are not just something your Church facility on the corner of Main street USA and your Church staff are responsible for. YOU are the Church. Some say, “It starts with you!” But I’m afraid I have to disagree, in this situation, with that statement. The Bible tells us that preachers and teachers will be held to a higher standard and judgment than non-preachers and teachers.
So, I strategized with the guy on the other end of the phone. We talked about what to do to get the ball rolling regarding making the change in his Church. Next time, the goal would be to be fully ready for a ‘least of these’ wandering into a Church service. The plan will be for all to be strategically prepared. Not only prepared but praying for the least of these to walk through their doors!
I recommended that he request a meeting early in the week and especially suggested that he not approach the Pastor before the worship service starts next Sunday. (Remember the focus required before giving a speech, so protect this time for your Pastor by having difficult conversations after the message.
As he arrives for the appointment, I recommend that he discuss this whole scenario with the Lead Pastor by remembering one thing. Less is more. I challenged my caller to do very little talking. I recommended that he walk into the office, have a seat, tell the Pastor how much you appreciate him and your attending Church each weekend, is proof of such. Proceed to say to the Pastor what happened and say to the Pastor what the officer told the young woman…”The officer told her, ‘you are not welcome here.” Then ask the Pastor this…”What do you think about the officer telling that woman that she is not welcome here?”
Then just Listen.
Don’t say a word, even if it means total silence for minutes. Just sit there and be still. I told the caller the only thing I could recommend to him was what I would do at that moment if I were him. I told him that I would listen to the Pastor carefully. The Pastor’s response would become the epicenter of my next decision. His response would help me determine whether to call that Church my home from there out. If so, then I would fully assist in developing our entire Church body, starting from the pulpit, to the parking lot, to the perimeters of the planet, to be the hands and feet of Jesus in any situation. Or, if the Pastor just shrugged this whole situation off, it would begin, for me, searching for a Church that takes the Teachings and Commands of Jesus severe enough to demonstrate that Heaven and Hell are in the balance and eternity is at stake, and how we respond to the least of these is critical.
Oh, I pray that the pastor senses the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and I pray what the officer told the young lady haunts that pastor to his very soul’s core. I pray that Church has a trajectory change in focus, purpose, and passion. I pray that their new Church mantra will become something like this…
Oh what a Church that will be!