Written by Matt McKendry
As a picky teenager, I found mayonnaise to be an off-putting concept if I ever thought about it for too long. One day while making a BLT, I made the mistake of reading the ingredients on the label. Much to my chagrin, they read as follows: egg yolk, lemon juice, white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt, canola oil.
I remember wondering who in their right mind would wake up early one morning, jump out of bed and exclaim with uninhibited jubilation, “I bet that if I mix all of these disgusting things together and make some sort of off-white congealed paste, people EVERYWHERE will want to put it on their food!” To me it made absolutely no sense how someone come up with that.
No one in their right mind goes after concentrated lemon juice for a snack all on its own, or sits down to a movie with a shot of white wine vinegar in their hand, or pours themselves a bowl of Dijon mustard for breakfast. But Matt, what about raw eggs? Didn’t Rocky Balboa eat those all by themselves? Yeah, but it was disgusting and definitely not a common snack choice.
However, as mayonnaise begins to grow on me, I’ve realized that even a collection of unpleasant ingredients can be used for something good. I think about our church communities in a similar way. We often make the mistake of telling ourselves that the goal is to find perfection; if I create a flawless group, a seamless gathering of people that is easy to love and get along with, it will appeal to outsiders. But when you open church doors to everyone, anyone is able to walk through. We pray for the broken to come to us, but subconsciously we draw the line between someone who requires a few meetings for encouragement and someone who will spend years of our time, attention and support. We’ll ask God to fill our sanctuaries with people who are eager to serve, but we’ll inadvertently look past the ones who are socially awkward, who talk too much, or who take twice as much patience. We allow ourselves to sift through these people and direct our ministry towards what is appealing to us, or what makes our church attractive to others.
“‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,’” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40).
Jesus Himself gives us a list of the ingredients for the Church, but if we’re being totally transparent, most of the time we find ourselves looking at them and making our own judgement calls about which people we think are desirable and which are not. We want charismatic business owners, easy-going newlyweds, even-keeled parents and trendy young adults.
But not only did Jesus say we need to look after the most undesirable when they find their way into our churches, He actually means for us to actively go out and pursue them. It’s easy to feed the hungry, but when they keep coming back to you for more, we begin to question their level of effort. It’s easy to pray for convicts, but to maintain support despite mistake after mistake is exhausting. We want to share the Gospel, but when someone just doesn’t stop peppering us with questions, we lose interest in answering them over time.
The Church will not work as it was intended unless it has people through whom the limits of our compassion, mercy, patience and love are tested. Because if we can’t make it work inside the church, how can we ever expect it to work in our communities?