Memory slippage is the stage of life I'm enjoying right now. It's not total loss yet but some things do slip through the cracks. Like, for example, where I picked up this jewel. Was it read somewhere or heard? For the life of me I don't know. I'm sure, however, I didn't make it up. Either in a conference or on a blog this thought entered my memory banks---if you're in a suburban or urban locale your congregation should reflect the basic people makeup of the closest Walmart store. By extension, this means I should encounter the people of Walmart when I go to church every week. Though the memory of this thought is foggy, one thing is clear as day. When I inserted that jewel in a sermon one Sunday the church body almost went into a spasm. The people of Walmart? At church...?
It's a shocker of sorts to most of our settled congregations, even those in suburban and urban settings. That people of Walmart site, where I borrowed the above picture, seems to be a pictorial directory of the strangest people on earth. That the site represents pictures from 6,300 stores scattered across the nation doesn't reduce the surreal reality by too much. To expect to encounter them in a local church may be a little far-fetched. Or, is it? If Walmart pictures a cross-section of our community is it so odd to expect our church to also reflect that composition? Racially? Ethnically? Economically? Socially?
The sad truth is that most churches are cloisters of similar people. The unifying theme should be common faith in Jesus Christ and submission to a shared belief system. More often than not the union runs deeper, reflecting shared demographics like race, education, social standing, economic station, or other unifying elements. You know, birds of a feather. When someone walks in the doors outside those norms, there's a shock factor. Some of the racial tension we're experiencing in the country right now is because we're used to living in these sterile bubbles of sameness. If the people of Walmart walked in many of us would have a conniption fit.
Jesus drew four circles for his disciples. They are the boundaries he established for the mission of the church: Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the farthest regions of the known world at that time (see Acts 1:8). That closest circle should be the immediate mission field for local churches, the mission field down the street. The membership should mirror the population that lives within that circle. The people of Walmart should be welcome in the churches functioning there. Yes, we should see them at church. Yes, in my church and your church.
There's a learning adjustment or two if this is to happen---
1. Everyone should be welcome in our church.
Paul wrote very clearly and carefully: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is
neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ
Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). Church should be the most level place in society.
2. God arranges the body as he will, in the mystery of his ways.
It's a verse that guided my pastoral ministry for thirty-five years---"But as it is,
God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose"
(1 Corinthians 12:18). Yes, I know Paul was referring to the human physical
body and the one who shaped it by supernatural plan. This same God guides
and draws people to his church in a mysterious way. We must treat everyone
with great care.
3. Unbelievers aren't disciples.
Church people often complain that the people of Walmart don't know how to
act or dress in church. It's true. Pay attention to what Paul wrote about
them---"The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for
they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are
spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14). All of us need to learn of Christ. We
can't expect unbelievers or even new believers to comprehend many of the
behavioral adjustments of living the Christian life.
4. Teaching them is our mission.
Jesus stated the Great Commission with clarity. We are to make disciples of all
nations, "...teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you..."
(Matthew 28:19-20). If Walmart people don't understand modest dress, purity
of life, virtuous language, respect, compassion, caring, and all the other
attributes of Christian faith, we are to teach them. Of course, that presumes
something monumental: that we know them and practice them ourselves.
5. There are no perfect people.
Comparing ourselves to them is spiritual arrogance. We must remember what
Isaiah wrote: our best is but filthy rags before God (see Isaiah 64:6). Thinking
we are better may be one of the reasons so much resentment and hatred is so
It's been a matter of reflection since I first heard about our church resembling the local Walmart store. What would be the character of our nation if it were so?
The people of Walmart at church? Yes.