It sounds strange, if you love the church and you believe that Jesus instituted the church because it was God's glorious design for us and our one anothering, to say that when someone expresses an interest in the hope of Christ, you can't think of a single church that you would recommend to them.
But the truth is that even though Jesus instituted the church as God's glorious design for our one anothering, it is full of...us. It is full of broken and failing and falling human beings who are struggling under the weight of our own existence, wrestling with our own insecurities and the things that we ourselves have not yet surrendered to Jesus (and even once we have surrendered them, there always seem to be more...), and because of that, we are prone to break, fail, and trip up other human beings who come into our midst.
So when you have someone who says they've given up on religion but their heart is still open to hope, you can't - you simply can't - just try to plug them into a system of broken but religious human beings and hope they figure it out from there. All you're going to do is wound them more deeply and take that little reservoir of hope that is holding on inside of them and poke a big ol' hole in the side of it until it all leaks out and leaves them hopeless and empty.
This is not to say that this is the approach for everyone. Not at all. There are persons whose life stories bring them to a place where what they fall in love with first is the community of God's people. They love the one anothering, and they thrive on it, even when it's broken. They'll be able to see the confessional nature of our mess-ups and how we love and encourage one another even when we're not perfect (as the encouragee or the encourager), and they'll want to be part of that kind of community. Then, when we get them plugged into our church, we run the cord a little longer and plug them into Jesus.
This is the model that we've adopted for quite a long time, actually. This is where our most recent evangelistic ideas lead us - we get persons into the church, and then we make them Christians. We draw them with our programs, then we spread the Communion table before them. We entice them by how we love one another, then we teach them the words, "Jesus loves me."
But when we're looking at a generation who has been so deeply wounded by the church, a generation turning its back on religion and on our structures and on our programs, we can't just keep telling them that this is what we've got. That this is what it's all about. That maybe they were just in the wrong church. Because the truth is that for someone thirsty for the living water of Jesus Christ who is uncertain about what love even looks like, every church is the wrong church.
When my friend said those words to me - I have given up on religion, but you give me hope - I wondered what kind of thing I might plug her into, and as I said yesterday, I came quickly to the conclusion that there was nothing I should plug her into. She's not looking to be plugged in. Not right now.
What she needs is a Gospel encounter. She needs to see Jesus. She needs to meet Him. She needs to see what it's like to keep coming to Him. She needs to be there and hear the voices crying out on the sides of the road. Needs to see the woman pressing through the crowds just to touch Him. Needs to know what it's like to climb into a boat and cross over to the other side of the lake just to hear Him speak love one more time.
And maybe, sure, she could see that in a church. But that's just not the only thing God called us to. Maybe, I realized, the best way for her to see Jesus...is through me. It's to see me crying out, pressing through the crowds, climbing into a boat. Maybe the best way for her to meet Jesus is for me to keep showing up in the places where He is and joining Him. Out loud.
Maybe that's what evangelism ought to be about.