In my first year of teaching, I experienced something that changed the way I view God, the church, and society. I was teaching second grade in a high poverty school. Our school was 88% free and reduced lunch, the second highest rate of food insecurity in the district.
At Christmas, my home church had always done a Christmas outreach in which two youth group members adopted and shopped for a child in need. As Christmas time neared, two of the students in my classroom began to talk about the event and tell their classmates that they were going to the big church to eat and see Santa.
I stopped what I was doing because it dawned on me that my students were the outreach program. The reason it hit me so hard was because there were a lot more kids in my classroom who needed help. I also knew that after the Christmas party, there was going to be no follow up or continuing relationship between the church and these kids who I saw everyday.
I knew because I had been on the other end. I had been one of the youth who adopted a child at Christmas and picked him or her up and took them to Christmas party thinking that I was doing what God had called us to do as followers.
But I have to say now years later looking back on this, I don’t think we were. I think we were making ourselves feel better about the amount of time and money we spent on ourselves. I don’t think welcoming these kids into our lives and into our church for one day every year was what Jesus was asking his disciples to do either.
As we approach the season of Advent, it would be easy to plan outreach programs that would allow us to tout that we our arms are opened to the community and to our community’s needs, but let’s think more critically and hold ourselves more accountable as churches and as Christ-followers. If we are opening our arms to our community only at Advent and the rest of the time our doors are closed to these same people, then what is the point?
If our community encounters locked doors and security guards as their first impression of church, then there is a good possibility that they will never encounter Christ in what we call the house of God.
Is church about us, our safety and our comfort or is church about God and God’s work among God’s people?