By Fr. Justin Clemente. September 20, 2022
When I’m walking the parish, knocking on doors, and trying to get to know folks and their neighborhood, it usually takes about five seconds to know how a conversation is going to go. Are they going to 1) reject any conversation, 2) listen politely and move along as quickly as possible, or 3) be open to a longer and larger conversation?
Recently I met Braeden (not his real name), and this one fell into the third category – my favorite kind! Braeden very kindly offered me a seat on his front porch (clearly an extrovert!) as we discussed everything from his neighborhood, his line of work, and his Christian background.
Braeden has a background in the Church of God, but is not currently in active fellowship with the body of Christ. While he professes to have a personal relationship with Jesus, he cannot stand to be in the church. Why? Too many hypocrites. He told me how he got close to some of the leaders in his denomination, only to find himself distracted in worship by the many failings of leadership he himself witnessed! This a tough one, because this is a legitimate concern that requires patience and sensitivity. On the one hand, a church can be so toxic and the leadership so unrepentant, that the only thing left to do is to leave. On the other hand, refusing to practice forgiveness “as we have been forgiven” is a denial of the power of the gospel. It is to become the greatest kind of hypocrite! Additionally, this line of thinking can also sometimes be a cover up for some other kind of issue (e.g. the church wouldn’t let me sin, so I left!)
Instead of focusing in on his past, I encouraged Braeden to reflect on God’s will for him and his family. As I often tell folks: I don’t need to know anything else about your background to know that God wants you to be well-shepherded. I shared that with Braeden, hoping that his calling as a Christian, husband, and father, would snap him back into sensitivity instead of neglect. Into community instead of going it alone. Into fellowship with the body instead of being a severed limb!
I ask your prayers for Braeden, that God would soften his heart, renew his faith, and build up his family into Christ’s one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Maybe we’ll see him soon. As we saw this past Sunday, God is preparing hearts and minds to make that oh-so-difficult first trip back to church, and back to Christ, the Good Shepherd.