I grew up in a big, shiny megachurch where the services were produced for TV and everyone was smiling all the time. I followed the path of the worship revolution to rock bands, drama skits and high production values but as I began to feel more of a pull to a preaching/teaching role, there was no place for me in the slick, conservative Jesus show.
As I explored scripture (at a conservative seminary) my view of God only got bigger. I quickly figured out that the myopic view of ministry and of God’s ability was keeping many churches boxed in to who could and could not lead or minister. As the list of rules (mostly unwritten) got longer, God got smaller.
My move to an inclusive church came as a result of my expanding view of God, so this is a very “chicken and egg” discussion for me. Worshiping with any and all who want to join in seemed the logical conclusion. As my view of God grew, so did my trust in God’s ability to do God’s job. God decides who is fit for ministry, I do not.
I recently moved back to Phoenix after living in San Francisco for many years and my first concern was finding an Open & Affirming church. When I moved away in 1998 that would have been an issue, but now it was much easier than I thought. As part of my transition plan, I Googled “gay friendly churches in Phoenix” I easily found Foothills Christian Church, just a few miles from where I was to live. I visited once and my church-shopping odyssey ended before it began. I found a church that was open, honest, and willing to say that God’s way is bigger than our way, so anyone can join us.
I’ve heard many an evangelical pastor say, “Jesus doesn’t clean the fish before he catches them.” They would do well to take their own advice. Jesus never put limits on who could follow him, who could worship him. He called and served the Last Supper to Judas. He revealed the essence of true worship to a Samaritan woman, a cult member and a serial monogamist. He was followed and supported by wealthy women. He spoke truth to thousands at a time, and I’m sure there were some folks with issues in the crowd. He brought about radical reform in a crooked tax man by simply asking to share a meal with him. Jesus models inclusiveness that is radical and uncomfortable and then leads the broken into the way of God that heals and restores them. This, to me is the essence of the church. We provide a safe place for God to do God’s work. Not where we do God’s work based on our cultural taboos and preferences. As a community we play a part in that healing and openness but only as directed by God’s Spirit.
The other side of God’s bigness, is that God does work and heal and move through more closed-off models of ministry, because God is that big. It’s just not a place where I can feel comfortable worshipping but if those are places where other people can find God and begin their journey with God, that I can’t judge or decide that God can’t work there any more than they can’t decide how God works where I worship. Having an bigger view of God frees me and frees our community to be about what God calls us to do and leaves little room or interest in deciding how other communities should conduct their business.
A friend of mine is fond of saying “God’s imagination for my life is infinitely greater than my own”. That is true of our individual lives, our communities and our worlds. Being part of an inclusive community says to me that we are ready to accept the magnitude of God’s love, compassion, and vision for the world and be part of what God is doing to bring God’s healing.