Wednesday, September 10, 2008

"We don't help people here"

     Yesterday, I had one of those pastoral drop-in’s that drives me nuts. A gentleman with a need stopped in to ask whether I could help. Naturally, the need involved cash, but it was the ninth. All my discretionary funds had been spent. There was nothing I could do but offer him a prayer. The gentleman thanked me. I asked for what. He said he had just gone to another church here in town (it will remain nameless) to ask for help. I naturally assumed that the church had also spent all its discretionary money, so I said, “It’s really tough out there for a lot of people. We have way more need than resources right now, no matter the denomination.” The gentleman said he did not know about that, but he sure knew that was not this particular church’s problem. “How’s that?” I asked. The gentleman said that when he went to theis particular church, he had not even been able to speak to the pastor. The secretary interrupted him as he was explaining his need with the statement, “We don’t help people here.”
     I was shocked. Apparently so was the man, who had his daughter with him. He said, “I know. That’s how I felt.” Apparently my poker face was not on. But he was not done. “I asked her if I could speak to a pastor to explain my need,” he went on. Once again, the secretary told him, “Sir, I am sorry, but we do not help people here. You will have to go somewhere else.” Wow!
     Admittedly, this story could end in a bit of a rant, and I am sorely tempted so to do. I could throw the church and the church leaders under the bus and feel all sanctimonious and self righteous. I also have no doubt that the church leaders would explain to me that they do all that they can, but that there is way too much need. I am sure they have a lot of demands on their time with services, Bible Studies, pastoral counseling and the like. But there has to be a better way.
     Now, because of their witness, two generations of a family have heard of a particular church that “we don’t help people here.” When these people are in need in their lives, for however long they live, when they think of turning to their Father in heaven, they will remember that His people “don’t help people here.” What a testimony. Given attendance figures at mainline churches across the country, maybe a lot of people have begun to figure out the truth of that statement made to that man and his daughter.
     It would be easy to condemn the church and the attitude expressed; however, our purpose in gathering as a church community is always to build up. First, we owe it to our Lord to examine ourselves. When do we become roadblocks to His grace? When do we trip people up on their way to meet Jesus? When do we, in our daily life and work, decide that He is too small to meet any needs? The man thanked me for a prayer of provision. I had no money, not even personally, and he recognized the genuine effort to try and meet his need. Similarly, he recognized the lack of care and concern in the other church. He recognized that their unwillingness to serve was beneath the promise and mercy supposedly offered by Christ’s Church.
     Second, we must remember that part of our testimony, as His faithful people, is that we have died to self and are now His disciples. We claim that our Lord has authority over all things on heaven, on earth, and under the earth. We claim that He can conquer all things, even death. Why, then, do so many of us choose not to act as if we believe?  Yes, it is hard out there. Yes, the need is so much greater than any of our resources. But our God is a God who calls all to abundant living. Our God is a God who stretched out His arms on the hard wood of the cross for everyone to be drawn into His loving embrace. His mercy is offered to all people, not just to those whom we feel like offering it. Who are we to claim, in His name, “we don’t help people here.” If churches are not helping people, why do they even exist?

No comments: