The other day I talked with a young woman who is being actively recruited by a Mormon church in town. She was invited by a friend, and she has found this particular church to be very inviting, caring, understanding and open to answering all her questions. She feels good there. She doesn't know or care much about theology, even though she identifies herself as a strong Christian. The love they are showing her and the genuine attention they are giving her are enough to make acceptable whatever theological claims they present to her. She has visited a number of orthodox Christian churches in town and none of them have appealed to her in the way that this Mormon congregation appeals. And to be honest, I completely understand. I can hardly blame her for caring more about the way she feels when she's there than about theological orthodoxy. I've been to most of the other churches she named. With one possible exception, I agree with her feelings about them. I wish very much that I had an alternative to offer her.
I spoke with another friend the other day who will have nothing to do with organized religion after being brought up in Christian schools and churches. She's been there, done that, and said "no, thanks." There are a handful of Christians she respects, but walking into a church with it's weird sub-culture and people who are products of that sub-culture is not something she will ever do. I can't blame her. I don't really like it either and I am one of those products of weird church sub-culture.
Over the years there have been times when I've invited people to attend church, and I've always been painfully aware of how strange church seemed to my friends. I've always wished that I could go to a church where it was really comfortable to invite people - where there wasn't this obvious cultural wall to climb and where the 'us-and-them' mentality was absent. I've always wanted to be a part of a church where I never had to fear embarrassment from what might be said or done by the pastor or worship leader, and where our church culture was the kind of thing that made people want to belong rather than want to flee. I've given up on finding one. I hope desperately that I'll be able to help pastor one.
As a pastor and seminarian, I care very deeply about theology. But these conversations have reminded me again that it's how we behave that matters most to others. As Jesus has taught us, it all comes down to love.