This is the first of several occasional posts written in her early blogging days by my wife , who is, in many respects, the better writer in the family. This originally appeared online in December of 2006:
There’s an episode of Seinfeld where George announces that he is going to tell a girl that he loves her. He’s never said this to anyone before and it’s a big step.
Jerry asks him whether he is sure of the “I love you return”. “Because if you don’t get that return, that’s a big matzoh ball hanging out there.”
I’ve been thinking lately that the church has gotten very practiced at saying, “I love you.” We put on community fun days, fill shoe boxes with toys, sing carols to the seniors at Christmas, rent billboards, start radio stations, make TV shows, buy our own broadcast satellites, write books, publish books, put scripture in greeting cards, find creative (sometimes sneaky) ways to “share the gospel”, preach the sermon first, then feed the hungry. We invite and invite and invite. We re-engineer our Sunday services to “meet the needs of seekers”, then put together very cool websites to let everybody know that we are a “different kind of church”– Google that phrase sometime; it’s hilarious — which often means the preacher wears jeans and the coffee is in the middle of the service, instead of after.
But for all that, we aren’t getting the “I love you return.”
People aren’t saying it back. Instead, in answer to all of our efforts, we get an awkward silence (at best) or a sneering challenge. And a sense that maybe they’d rather we stopped saying it.
As a character on The New Adventures of the Old Christine observed recently, “People who go to church only like other people who go to church.”
And maybe that’s the problem. We can convince ourselves that we “love the lost” but we haven’t convinced them that we like them.
I was in a conversation lately with a man who I’m really coming to respect who works on the frontlines between ‘church’ and ‘world’. He has been involved in two initiatives recently. One is a chapel service which he says he really enjoys and is energized by and that’s what he expected to happen. The other, a doors open meal, has taken him by surprise. Every evening, he works on serving the meal and sits with the diners to talk and listen to their stories of blood sugar levels and bowling scores and, as much as he values the chapel service, this is the one that’s capturing his heart. He finds a comfort level there that he didn’t expect and I say that’s because he’s getting the “I love you return”.
The Church needs to rediscover what it means to be human in the world. As much as I love the Noomas and the H2Os and the big worship gatherings and time spent with other believers, we have to recognize that it isn’t invitations to videos and big events and holy huddles that will change the world.
I’m increasingly convinced that we won’t accomplish much until we can convince people that we like them.
– Ruth Wilkinson, 12/05/06