I think that I have become some sort of missionary to ex-church goers. In the past couple of weeks, I have had several conversations with people from work (Tulsa Regional and Barnes and Noble) about the church’s role in society and also about how people have been deeply hurt by members in church. Most cases were about feeling judged for actions that were seen as inappropriate by certain members. What struck me as odd was that these disputes were never taken to anyone else, thus the conflict remained between the one making accusations and the defendant. No leaders, no prayer, and no search for reconciliation were sought. Two of the people I talked to left the church and decided that they would not attend anywhere to escape the pain of being judged. One guy, who did not have much church experience to begin with, attends because his girlfriend likes to go because she has breast cancer and decided to attend church again, he goes to support her. But on his end, there is still a disattachment with the church.
I find that in just about every case, these people all feel like the wayward son in the story of the prodigal. They feel an attachment to God still, and on some level know they are loved, but the people who are called to love them don’t love them because the prodigals do not always behave correctly. These people all admit that spirituality is still exciting and real, but they feel disconnected with a body that claims to have the ultimate revelation of love in the world. So one some level, they do doubt that real love exists in the world. They seem to want an alternative but fail to see it in the church. Is the church the elder son in the prodigal story? Do we want to limit the joy of people returning, so that they must become a hired hand first in order to get the love of God? Why don’t we celebrate by having a feast and giving them rings on their fingers and robes to wear? Why must we make God’s love so conditional? Henri Nouwen believes that the church must take on the role of the embracing father, to show people that God’s love is real and unconditional, and is willing to confirm the lives of the wayward and bring them back home. My question is how we can get wayward people to believe that they are really loved, that grace is something real and powerful? Any thoughts? Please….