Pastor’s Friday Comments (03.08.19)

I learned something this week in our men’s prayer group about cattle herding in Australia. In Future Faith: Ten Challenges Reshaping Christianity in the 21st Century, Wesley Granberg-Michaelson informs us that, “In Australia there are two ways of forming and maintaining a herd of cattle in open land. One is to build the fence around the entire herd. The other is to dig a well. Whether grazing close or far away, the cattle will always be drawn back toward the water.”

As you would guess, Granberg-Michaelson’s point has nothing to do with animal husbandry. He uses that information as an illustration of two church structures, which he calls bounded (the fence builders) and centered (the well diggers). To oversimplify, some churches draw boundaries and say only certain people get in. Others create a center with people at varying distances from it, but always returning to it. His main application is to denominations, but it is equally appropriate in observing congregations.

I’m grieving over hearing about the fences that some people build. For Southern Baptists, the fence got built around the issue of “biblical inerrancy” and the insistence that anyone who worked for the denomination in any way had to subscribe to a particular creed. They called it the Baptist Faith and Message, but as soon as agreeing to it became a requirement for employment or a test of cooperation it became a creed. Some of us busted out of the fence to form the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Last week our United Methodist brothers and sisters reinforced a fence that they already had in place by insisting that congregations in the United States had to agree to cultural and theological interpretations held by their counterparts around the world, whether they agreed with them or not.

I found out this week that a church I once served as pastor built a fence around their daycare workers by firing a teacher because they didn’t agree with her “lifestyle,” even though she professed her Christian faith.

A few years ago we had someone decide not to join Parkway because we weren’t building fences to his satisfaction. As he put it, he was looking for a more “exclusionary” congregation.

I’m getting tired of fences. I don’t think building them, thereby deciding who is in and who is out, is in either my job description or yours. I want to dig wells. I want to find ways to bring refreshment and healing to a dry, thirsty land. I want to put a sign at the center of who we are and what we do that says, “Free water here. All are welcome to come and drink.”

God may sort out some as being here for the wrong reasons, but I’ll leave that up to the higher authority. I’ve got my hands full (and so do you) trying to get people over their distrust of God-fearing church folk who think they can tell others whether God loves them or not.

Hear me. I’m not saying what we believe and how we behave don’t matter. I just don’t think you get people to believe correctly or behave appropriately by making them see everything the way you do before they get in (whatever “in” is). I think we’ve got a lot better chance of helping people to lead lives that will bring peace to them, joy to God, and help to the world if we love them first, judge them never, and model Christianity for them always.

In communities like ours, we have enough challenges without investing the time and energy to build fences. Wells, on the other hand, are worth our efforts. You dig?