Listen to Paul speaking in Ephesians 2:14–16 to a church that is dividing on ethnic and social lines: “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”
We attend churches where all sorts of barriers probably still exist, whether it’s between black and white or rich and poor. Judgmentalism is the metaphorical doorkeeper that keeps the undesirables and the “impossibles” from entering through the doors of our closely guarded churches.
Answer the following questions honestly when it comes to the word impossible:
- A homeless man drunk on a bench in a city center, shouting and swearing at the world. Your next pastor?
- A neighborhood tough guy, all tattoos and attitude, hanging out on street corners, smoking weed. Your next youth pastor?
- A teenage mom dragging her screaming infant around the supermarket. Babysitting your children?
- A man with a sign begging for money next to a cash machine. Sent to seminary by your church elders?
- A child growing up in a home where both parents are drug users. A deacon in your church?
If we’re honest, aren’t these the kind of people the word hopeless was invented to describe? Aren’t people like this the “impossible” ones in our mind’s eye when we think of them and the average member in our church? All too often, we judge them (even if it’s only in our mind’s eye) and find them wanting. After all, what hopes and prospects do these people seriously have?
If we’ve answered honestly, then we’ve done two things with this list of people. We’ve categorized those with whom we’re angry and others for whom we feel sympathy and perhaps some guilt. At worse, we reject some of them out of hand. At best we despair over others. What can we do, after all? It’s not our fault, and it’s not our problem. That’s the way of it for the “poor, the marginalized, and the rejected.” Otherwise, they wouldn’t fall into those categories would they?
Shame on us.
I live and work in a scheme (the Scottish term for a public housing complex). I work with people in desperate situations. Many have been abused. Some are abusers. Some are violent drug users. Some have grown up in the foster care system. Some are angry. Some are depressed. Some are desperate. Some are quite happy. None of them qualifies as hopeless or impossible on my list. My list of impossibles probably looks quite different from yours:
- A seminary graduate with a master’s degree in theology. Can he make it in the schemes?
- Somebody who wears slacks and a blazer. Will he make it in the projects?
- A well-dressed young man with good manners. Will he make it in a prison ministry?
- A well-heeled woman who wears expensive perfume and too much makeup. Will she make it in a home for recovering prostitutes?
- A guy who drives a nice car and grew up with both parents. Can he identify with boys at the local reform school?
In my worst moments, these are the ones I think of as hopeless and impossible. In my world, they are “the poor, the marginalized, and the rejected.” I am tempted to think that these people are never going to amount to anything in a ministry like mine. They’re failures before they start, and they don’t even know it; they may as well give up now.
Shame on me.
Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Phil. 2:1–4)
The light of these verses needs to shine in the dark recesses of our hearts. If we want to make an impression on the watching world, then we need to start tearing down the barriers of our own judgmental hearts and start truly coming to grips with the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to reorient our thinking as Christian leaders on all sides of the ethnic and socioeconomic divide. Whether we live in a mansion or a tin shack, we need to reach out to God and ask Him to clean up the impossible sin and judgmentalism of our own lives. All of us, without exception, will stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). So any thought and discussion on this should be done with an attitude of mutual repentance—regardless of ethnicity, social standing, and employment history.