Have you ever had a meal that was too salty to eat? I know I have. One time in particular stands out in my mind. Invited over for dinner at someone else's home, the meal they had prepared looked amazing. Beef roast, potatoes, fresh peas and a garden salad. My mouth was salivating in anticipation of my first bite. I loaded up my plate with utter glee...and then came the first bite...TOO MUCH SALT!! The meat was so salty that I literally couldn't drink enough water to wash away the saline residue from my mouth. I shudder to think how much overage I had in terms of my daily sodium allotment!!
The last few weeks I have been blogging about the theme of discipleship as it is a particular passion of mine. Discipleship is a Christianese word that simply means devoted follower. The concept of a devoted follower or loyal fan is not a foreign paradigm for our society. Whether we routinely shop at the same set of stores for our wants or needs, or we religiously follow our favourite sports teams no matter how poorly they may be doing at the moment, we as humans are very familiar with the idea of being a devoted follower.
In the church world, our key emphasis is about helping to create disciples (devoted followers & loyal fans) of Jesus Christ. Much of what we do in church should reflect this mission of creating more disciples. I have to wonder at times though if the rest of the world, those that aren't familiar with or connect to the church, look at what the church is about and are truly excited about what they see...until they have their first bite and find that the salt is a little overwhelming.
In the book of Matthew (one of the gospels in the Bible), Jesus instructs his followers to be the salt of the earth. In this metaphor Jesus challenges those who seek to follow after Him to be a preservative and so bring out the flavour of the world at large. In cooking, salt is used in this way...but when you have too much salt it ruins the meal. Where we as the church become a little to salty (even for our own taste) is when we no longer consider how we can bring the people from the fringe or the margins into the community at large. When we are internally focused as a faith community, we become too salty and we lose our effectiveness and relevance in the world.
So what are some of the signs of a salty church? A couple come to mind. The first is a church that is steeped in Christianese. If a community of faith speaks a language that only that community understands, there is an immediate disconnect with the rest of the world at large. If we truly believe that the church isn't about being a secret club or society, then we must make the effort to develop a common language that is easily understood by people inside and outside of the faith community. I'm not advocating for the watering down of truth, but I am suggesting that how we communicate the truth about Jesus Christ must resonate with a broader spectrum than those who are inside the community of faith. A great example of this is a church that prioritizes serving the community in which they are situated. The motivation for this church's acts of service isn't self-preservation, it's all about intentionally loving the greater community and extending the invitation to those on the fringe to become a part of the community in some way. A great example of this is when a church actively participates in a community cleanup or restoration project in conjunction with the community itself. These actions create a common language from which the broader community (the church & the fringe) can connect with one another.
The second sign of a salty church that comes to mind is a church that has unspoken expectations of its' members. When we frown upon others for how they dress when they come into the church building, or for what colour their hair is, or for tattoos, or for some other aesthetic so-called issue, we shift our focus from what is important to what is irrelevant. Looking at the life of Jesus, He was a master at connecting with those on the fringe. One of my favourite stories is that of Zaccheus. Craving to see and experience who Jesus is, Zaccheus climbed a tree to view Jesus from a distance. Passing by the tree where Zaccheus was perched, Jesus stopped and extended an invitation to Zach to join the community. The story continues from this point and what is truly evident is that Zach's experience of Jesus led to life change.
Broken, battered, bruised and on the fringe. Is the church willing to invite people into the community who don't look like us or talk like us?
Think about this the next time you are anticipating a great meal: Are you too salty, or does your life possess just the right amount of flavour to enhance not only your own experience of Jesus but also that those who are on the fringe?