In the Real Estate field, there are three immutable truths regarding the sale of buildings and property (especially in the commercial class). They are location, location and location. We are continually told that the church is not all that much different other than in the name of the critical element: people, people and people. John Maxwell says it repeatedly, Rick Warren echoes it in his Purpose Driven Life and virtually every “expert” who conducts a seminar reiterates it. Thus, just about everyone has sought to emphasize it and replicate those places where it is apparently, at least, practiced.
Sounds great doesn’t it? But I am more and more convinced that many churches which claim it as a mantra, ignore it as a practice. If the Lord Jesus is the perfect example in all things, then most churches have a long way to go in regard to relating and ministering to people as important individuals. I have mentioned on several occasions an example set with the man we know as the “Maniac of Gadara.” Jesus crossed the Sea, dealt with one man, and then re-crossed the sea. Evidently, even one person was important enough for a three day excursion. Equally significant to me, however, is the fact that it is almost impossible to find any two instances in which he dealt with the people to whom He ministered in exactly the same way. He touched some; He spoke to others; in some cases His presence seems necessary; in others, He merely spoke words of healing, etc., and it was done. This consistent variety gives us the impression that He was not only interested in people, but that He took time for them and recognized the incredible differences between individuals (and took them into account in His manner of ministry).
And that’s what we do in the local church, right? Unfortunately, wrong! We have allowed other considerations to creep in, taken our cues from the business world and even decided that, although He always had time for individuals, our culture is just too crowded and fast-paced to allow us to do the same. Unconsciously – and likely without evil intent – we have allowed other factors to become involved. The following are just three examples of what has happened to make our claims of “people consciousness” more hollow than resonant.
We are caught up in procedures. We’re big and we’re busy and we just must set certain procedures in place or we just won’t get things done. If you or your need don’t happen to fit into the procedure involved, either you are out of luck or you will have to try again sometime later. I once had a procedure in place for screening phone calls. I didn’t have time to talk to salesmen, those who chose not to identify themselves or even to missionaries that were seeking meetings or support. Would Jesus have done so? I think not, and I sincerely regret the obvious opportunities to share Christ or be a blessing to someone who was excluded by my procedure. Someone comes by to purchase or order a Bible but doesn’t have the money with him to pay for it. We tell him to come back when he does because after all, we can’t risk having any Bibles around that haven’t been paid for (we also never seem to take into account that the person may not even have the money for the Bible much less have it with Him). I really don’t think Jesus worried that much about such things; better that someone be turned away (and even offended) than that we violate our precious procedures.
We have our little processes that are similar to procedures but less formalized. There really is no written rule on the matter, but it just works best for US if we do things certain ways. That it inconveniences other people or leaves them feeling foolish or having made an unreasonable demand is of little concern – that’s just the way we do things. Some little kids flocked to Jesus; and the disciples had a fit. That wasn’t the process they followed. Jesus told them to back off and made much over the children. Our Lord certainly would not fit into many churches and their offices today because He really doesn’t appear to be particularly patient with process. I attended a college that had more and stricter rules than just about any place on earth outside the Muslim world. We were repeatedly told that these rules were for our good and that without them we would never ever be successful in life. I wasn’t very old, but I was old enough to recognize that many of the rules were not made for the students but for the convenience of the Administration. My kids attended a college which appeared to have the attitude of “let’s make a rule; then we won’t have to fuss with it again.” In both instances, it would take a lot of convincing that there was any “people-concern” involved.
There is a third (and there are many others that space limitations keep me from discussing), and that one bothers me more than any – precedent. We don’t want to set a precedent! Why not! In fact, I have a basic precedent to suggest: that we never should worry about setting precedents. If I am correct that Jesus rarely dealt with the same issue in the same way twice, He was constantly setting precedents. If every person is different, then it is almost inevitable that every situation will be at least a little bit different from any other. Wouldn’t it be great if we determined that we were simply going to deal with each case on its own merits? Then, if someone were to challenge us on the precedent issue, we could rightfully say, “We don’t have any precedents here. We deal with each case on its own merits because we truly care about people.”
I, personally, have experienced frequent cases where I felt that procedure, process and precedent were far more important than I. I don’t like it, but I’ve learned to live with it – after all I am a child of God and have been a Christian for well-over sixty years. I do wonder, however, how it must appear to new Christians or the unsaved.