One of the things they forgot to tell me in Seminary (or maybe I slept in that day... I slept in a lot in those days) was that there are more than two kinds of people.
I think I went into ministry thinking, "Well, there are sheep, and then there are goats." At a certain point the idea of "wolves" entered the picture, but whether they are synonymous with goats or an entirely different class...
For most of my education and early ministry, it seemed enough to separate people into those who want it (God, church, ministry, community) and those who didn't. Simple right?
Throw in an awareness of some "false teachers" or other kinds of predators who might occasionally come around and you have yourself a simple taxonomy, ideal for modern ministry.
If only it were that simple...
One of the things I have been struggling with recently is my inability to get my head around certain people, where they are coming from and why in the world they would do what they would do.
I wish I had a simple set of categories into which I could place everyone I come across... that would make ministry so much easier. I mean, I know Jesus knows the sheep from the goats. Why can't He make it easier for the rest of us to tell?
For instance, I posted a while back about hurt people who hurt people. I think that's part of it... Like the person who passive aggressively pokes and pokes, and then complements me, and then goes back to poking. Round and round. A hurt person who hurts people? A wolf? I don't know... And when does a hurt person become a wolf?
The person who never really commits at their last church, never really commits at this church, and is now moving on in search of something more, something else. The people who go to a homegroup once, never stay after the gathering to talk to anyone, never show up at a community dinner or anything else... and then drop out with a letter about how they never really felt connected. Man- what do you do with that?
Or the person who leaves, and comes back. And then leaves and comes back. And picking fights the whole time... Or those who are content (at least until you get that letter) to show up late and leave early and never really engage.
I realized yesterday that in my head, I had slipped into (especially at the beginning of evergreen) a disctinction between the unchurched and formerly churched we wanted to see be a part of the community and the churched that were less a priority. And in my head, the unchurched/formerly churched could pretty much get away with anything, because, well... they were our raison d'etre. But in conversation with Chris and Dustin yesterday, we added a further distinction- those who are unchurched or formerly churched, but really don't want any of what we're serving up. We'll go to great lengths, and give great grace to anyone who shows a modicum of wanting community, of wanting God, of wanting to be on this journey with us, and we'll leave alone anyone who wants to be left alone... But what about people who through their actions make it clear that they don't want what we're offering, but persist in hanging around?
I also realized yesterday (duh!) that there are those who are, at least on paper, in our "target group", but on whom we cannot expend much energy- because they don't want what we have. They don't want our community, they don't want our Jesus- they want only to speak, not hear. A big difference. And maybe that's one of the signs of a wolf... When the most important thing in the world is not the voice of God, but their voice.
Now, I wish I had the one cookie-cutter way of responding to such people- but I don't. Everyone is a unique case- a weird hybrid of sheep and goat (how did Luther put it? "Simul justus et peccator"?) that demands a unique response from those who can't see their souls- only what they show us. Is this the case where we go the extra mile and God does something very cool in turning things around? Or is this the case where we put up with too much, where our patience ends with people who really are in community to connect to God and others being badly hurt by hurt people who hurt people?
I wish I knew...
I've probably said way too much here... just processing.