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  • Writer's pictureJacob Skorka

Dear Christian, You're Trying Too Hard.

Updated: Jan 9, 2022

Here, have a beer and let's talk about inclusivity, or lack thereof, in the Church.


Preface: this is written through the lens of my experiences, and the experience of a good friend of mine. This is not meant to attack one church building or one specific ministry.


For years I was heavily involved with a parachurch ministry that carries out its mission in middle and high schools. The latter years of my involvement were done on campus at UNM, in the college entity of the ministry. I will not use the name of the ministry in this piece, so from here forth I will be referring to it as Youth Living. Youth Living prides itself on inclusion. The mission of the ministry is to go where kids (students) are and meet them there, including every single one because the Gospel is for the 99, and the 1. I'm paraphrasing, but the concept remains: "every kid, everywhere." Simply put, the ministry fails tremendously at its own mission. To the same point, the American church has come up short as well.


I had a conversation with a good friend a few nights ago and he said something that sparked some thoughts for me. For context, this friend was also heavily involved in Youth Living for many years. Not only him, but his entire family. His family has been involved at a 30,000-foot level, just as much as a boots-on-the-ground level. He was impacted greatly as a student, which bled into him impacting others as a leader for many years. This ministry has been nothing but beneficial for him and me, both. There have been eyebrows raised throughout the years, but nothing but love and passion for carrying out the mission of Youth Living. In reality, we have nothing but affection for Youth Living, but we fit the mold.


Now, the conversation that he and I were having started with a confession from left field. What started as a couple of friends shootin' the shit turned into a thought-provoking conversation when he decided to let me in on something that he's been processing. A few months back he made a decision that has affected his life in a way that not many people experience in their lives. He made a mistake that ended up with him in some pretty serious legal trouble. Pretty serious, meaning a couple weeks in the slammer, followed by months of community service, and a state mandated alcohol class. There has already been incredible redemption in his story, but that is not where I am headed. During our conversation he actually suggested to me that I, and everyone I know, stop by an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting. Not because everyone I know is an alcy, but to hear the perspective on alcohol and learn through that lens.


In his suggestion he said, ". . .the first time I walked into a meeting I was greeted with a welcome that I had never experienced. It was even better than [Youth Living]."

Wow.


For a man of his stature, a man of his faith, a man of his affection towards the ministry, a man who tries very hard to provide the same experience that he received, to say that.


The idea of inclusion, or being welcomed, in Christian circles has always been on the forefront of my Christian brain. I have been deeply hurt by a church and a church body, which causes me to be on guard around Christians. I am no stranger to the idea that Youth Living is as deep a Christian clique as any and can be painfully exclusive. That was never my experience, but I know it is a reality for some. It was never my friend's experience either, and for him to make that statement makes me think even more. It brings so much perspective. When I think of AA, I think of people who have been humbled in, possibly, embarrassing ways. I think of people who have reached a place that nobody should ever get to. To no fault of their own, don't assume that I am blaming these people for anything that they've experienced. I don't know their stories. I'm imaging that most of these people had to have other people shake them into the realization that there is a problem, and they need real help. Sure, some have the realization themselves, but I think for the majority it is a team effort from the people that love them.


So, imagine having very good friends. Very good friends who all have the same passion and know people all over the world. Literally, being able to go {almost} anywhere in the world and running into somebody that knows at least 3 other people that you know, because of Youth Living. Imagine going across the country and staying with somebody you have never met, because they trust somebody with their life that you trust with yours, and upon arrival you immediately have everything to talk about and are instant friends. Now, think about being a part of this network of people for 10+ years. Can you even dream up the amount of people you would know? The level of relationships you would have? Pouring your life into relationships with people, trying to make the newbs feel like they are a part, just like a couple people did for you years ago, leading to lifelong friends and the deepest relationships in your life. Then, you make a mistake. Although all of your closest friends are supportive and kind, you walk into a room full of strangers and receive a welcome that you have never experienced. A room full of strangers who have one thing in common: true humility.


That is powerful. It's powerful because it screams brokenness. This thought is twofold, right? On the one hand, these people had to be broken in order to be humbled. The people in this meeting share humility because they share brokenness. They share the feeling of being completely broken, admitting that they can't fix it on their own. On the other hand, it brings to light the blatant brokenness of systems, specifically in the church. A church of people who say they have been humbled because they are still broken. A global Jesus ministry, founded on the idea of welcoming everybody, doesn't stand a chance to a room of 7 people. This goes deeper than Youth Living. This is a church issue.


I think about the greeters at the front doors of a church on a Sunday. I've attended churches with 12,000 members and I've been to churches with 30 members. Everything from seeing 20,000 people through the doors in one day, to 6 people through the doors on a designated night. All of these places have people standing at the doors waiting to say hello. If I'm ever lucky enough to have a conversation with a greeter, it always looks similar.


Greeter: "Hi! Welcome! We're so glad you're here today!

Me: "Hi! Thanks." As I try and scurry past, so I don't engage the same conversation with the same dude as last week.

Greeter: "What's your name?"

Me: "Jacob." While my thoughts become aggressive; it's Jacob, Brad. My name is Jacob. The same that it was last week, and the week before that, and the week before that, and every week for the last 2 years that I've been showing up at 8:56 AM for the 9:00 AM service at this church!

Greeter: "Oh so good to meet you, Jacob! Is this your first time?"

Me: "Nope. Nope. It's uhhh. . . no, I have been here before. We talked last week." Then I walk away because now it is cringingly awkward.


I think about the small group leader who intentionally talked to only me for 10 minutes the first time I went. The very next week, the very same leader starts the conversation with, "I've met you before," while oddly pointing a finger gun and going completely side eye, "but remind me of your name?"


I think about the leader of the "connect ministry" infamous for initiating the I-know-we-have-talked-many-times-but-I-still-can't-remember-you-so-I'm-going-to-ask-vague-life-questions-until-you-say-something-that-triggers-my-memory conversations. Is it just me, or does this interaction happen WAY more at places that claim to be welcoming, and inclusive, than anywhere else in life?


The system is broken, and it's broken because there is an agenda. The agenda is to make people feel like they are welcomed, no matter what. When, instead, there should be no agenda and we should welcome people because they are people. Dear Christian, you're trying too hard! You're doing too much and it's making it worse. Stop acting like you care about what I do throughout the week if you're not going to remember my name next time I see you. Close your mouth, your smile is creepy. No, don't hug me, I don't like hugs, we established that last week when you tried to hug me.


There always seems to be a pattern when inclusivity is the nucleus, and the harder people try the faker it seems.


Maybe the solution is to stop TRYING to be inclusive and actually BE inclusive. Maybe the fix is that inclusivity is an attitude, or a lifestyle, rather than a conversation. I realize that it is unrealistic for everybody to remember everything, but I'm not talking about everybody and everything. I'm talking about the fact that a room full of strangers, who admit they are broken, is more welcoming than the church full of broken people. Maybe the reason an AA meeting is safer than your small group is because it's founded on genuine acceptance of being broken, rather than an acceptance narrative because that's what you're supposed to say.


I'm not going to be everything to everyone, and neither should you. I'm damn sure not going to have a bullshit conversation for the sake of inclusion, and neither should you. I want you to feel like you're actually a part of my life, and I hope you call me out if I don't.


Do you need another beer?

 

The 99 and the 1 references Matthew 18:12 - "What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?" NIV. We, Christians, always talk about leaving the 99 who fit in to go find the 1 who doesn't, with hopes to include them.

"Brad" was a made-up name. I've never actually met a greeter named Brad.

To all the church greeters: I know that job is hard. I know you see so many faces at once and it's hard to remember. Do it well. Maybe just say "HI!" and not try and have conversations, I don't know.

To all my small group leaders: if you feel attacked then maybe it's time to do better. Try harder. Write things down so you don't forget. Be honest, don't pretend like you remember if you don't.

To all my "connect ministry" leaders: your job is to connect people to other people who will be a part of their lives. You don't need to be a part of everyone's life. If that's your passion then do a great job of connecting, and people will include you because of it.



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