“I don’t know what I would need the church for. I can go out and make a difference on my own.”

Hair stylistIt’s amazing what one learns at the barbershop. This past week I was part of a conversation with a person who had grown up in the church, had participated in numerous mission trips as a high school student and had, as is stereotypical, slipped away from the church in her late teens. Eventually she went on to get a license as a hair stylist.

Knowing that I was deeply involved in the life of the church she honestly admitted, “I don’t know what I would need the church for.” Then she proceeded to tell me how every two weeks she donates half a day at the local shelter for homeless youth. There she offers free shampoos and haircuts to these youth whose hair is often matted, unwashed, and out of control. What a gift she offers. What a gift she receives.

homeless youthBut I was struck by her revealing admission that she didn’t see any need for the church since she could go out and make a difference on her own. The good news is that her perception of the church is largely about serving others and reaching out to the “least of these” in true Matthew 25 fashion. At one level she clearly gets church. Many Sunday church services end with some sort of admonition like, “Now go out and serve this world in the name of Christ.”

The good news is that this person clearly got the message in her youth that church and faith and life are about service. She didn’t say it this way, but it was as if her explanation for not going to church was about taking out the “middle man.” “Why waste two hours on Sunday hearing about my need to serve when I could just use those two hours actually serving,” seemed to be her thinking.

mentoringI share this with you because I think it is important that every church and every pew-sitting Presbyterian wrestle with her question of “why go to church if I can just make a difference on my own.” I also think it is important because I have heard stories, too many to count, of life-long Presbyterians who say, “My children puzzle me. I raised them in the church and now they just see no reason for going. And it’s not that they are bad people. They are teachers and social workers and counselors and caseworkers. They just don’t go to church.”

If we are to have flourishing congregations and practicing Christian communities well into the future we will have to have an answer for those who are out doing Matthew 25 ministries despite their lack of church membership and participation. How do you reach people who are doing our service work as well or better than any one of us who are card-carrying members of the church?

This particular hair stylist grew up in the church, participated in mission trips and clearly got the message that faith is about service. She just doesn’t go to church now.

My question for you to ponder is this:

“Is this person now a lapsed Christian or is she a missionary out working on our behalf?”

How do you see her?

(Comments are invited. I would love to see the discussion this starts.)

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