Jesus said, "Yes, and I tell you that crooks and whores are going to precede you into God's kingdom. John came to you showing you the right road. You turned up your noses at him, but the crooks and whores believed him. Even when you saw their changed lives, you didn't care enough to change and believe him. (Matt 21.31-32)

Does your church pass the "crooks and whores" test? To tell you the truth I'm not sure many of ours would. And if we were to be really honest with ourselves, I don't think we really want them to.

We do a good job talking about loving the siners wanting them to be saved but do we make a place for them in our church? Sure once they have accepted Jesus, and have cleaned up their act and don't have "stuff" to deal with we will love them and welcome them into the church but how about before they look like "us"? How about when they are still dirty? How about when they are still sinners? How about when they still have "stuff"? I'm not so sure we really want them here. This is not the case for every church, there are many who open their doors to anyone, but I fear it has become far too comonplace among evangalical churches.

A couple years ago I was at a conference and heard a pastor say that our churches should resemble going to the local Walmart, locking the doors, and everyone inside was now part of your church. That's a scary thought, especially if you happen to lock those doors after However this is exactly what Jesus is saying, the crooks and whores are entering the kingdom infront of the religious...yes that even includes some of us. I truly believe that church should be more than just a safe place to bring our kids and meet with other like minded people. It should be a place where the broken can be restored, where the lost can be found, where the seeker can find answers...the homosexual can find love, the abortion doctor can find forgivness, the drug addict/alcoholic can find support and freedom...etc.

The problem is that gets messy. It exposes us and our kids to things we wouldrather not be exposed to. I was talking with a friend of mine on Sunday about this issue. I brought up that while all of this sounds like a good idea most of us don't want it. I used the analogy that if the kids from our weekly Drop In, teens who curse/smoke/drink/do drugs, actually started coming to youth group on Wed nights, parents would freak out. My friend and his wife honestly admitted that they would be right there with those parents. Now I understand where they are coming from and I don't begrudge them at all for wanting to protect their kids from certian influences, but it does show where our hearts are. The truth of the matter is that if we were really doing what we are supposed to be doing the church would be filled with "crooks and whores".

Our pastor told us about one of the things that his pastor used to say "I want you to go find the people who no one else will be their pastor, bring them here and I will be their pastor". I pray that we can truly adopt this heart. It won't be easy but it will be worth it

"The hospitality and pastoral care practiced in the Celtic and Angelo-Saxon monasteries was part and parcel of a broader ministry of presence and availability in which the Church's primary role was conceived of as simply being there in the midst of the people. The ministry of the presence was exercised both inside and outside the confines of the monastic vallum...The exercise of this pastoral ministry of the presence was seen as a more important function for the Church than engaging in mission or evangelism." (Ian Bradley "Colonies of Heaven: Celtic s for Today's Church")

As I am learning more about the early Celtic Church I am finding myself drawn more and more to the Celtic concept of "ministry of the presence". The idea being that it was enough for believers to just be around people. There was no need to preach or evangelize or attempt to convert for the sake of conversion. Instead the Celtic Christians realized that just by being around people and building relationships and getting involved in their lives ministry was taking place.

It is good to see this concept begin to make a comeback. From what I can see more and more Christians are starting to see the value in loving people purely because they are image bearers of God, not because there is a hidden agenda to convert them to Christianity. Making this change in our mentality allows the doors of ministry to open in ways that 30-40 years ago would have not even been considered. Churches are starting to open community centers that provide childcare, after school programs, education classes and even community health clinics. Believers are beginning to build meaningful relationships with their co-workers and neighbors that move deeper than a potential evangelistic target. And in the midst of this doors are opened for the Kingdom of God to advance.

For me the ministry of the presence takes the form of our weekly "Drop In" at the church. Every Thursday night we block off a large section of our parking lot and open up the youth building to give the teens in our community a place to hang out. They come to play basketball and dodge ball in the gym, play video games, shoot pool and play air hockey in the youth room and skateboard/bmx in the church parking lot. We have built/purchased ramps and grind rails for them to use outside as well as balls and games for use inside. We also cook between 75-150 hotdogs for the teens every week. This coming Summer will mark the fifth year of doing the Drop In. We started off with only a handfull of kids (15-25) and are now seeing between 50-70 teens show up every week, the majority of them have little to no church background. There have been many who have asked us what the fruit is that we are seeing, meaning how many kids are getting "saved". They want to know why we don't make the teens sit down for a Bible study or short teaching each week. For some unless we are sharing the Word of God with these kids on a weekly basis then there is no value in it. I think the early Celts would dissagree. We have discovered that there is value in just being here. The realationships that have been built with the kids who have come through the Drop In over the last 4-5 years are priceless. These kids have told us that they count there weeks by "Thursday nights". This is the one highlight to their week and by us just being there consistantly we have built a trust with many of them. They open up to us and share their problems. We are able to pray for them when they are going through difficult times, even if they don't know we are praying. I just reciently had the opportunity to talk with a teen whose grandfather had passed away and wanted to know if he was in heaven. A couple weeks after that I prayed with a teen whose best friend had just gotten hurt in a serious dirt biking accident. And yes, we have even had some of the teens come to church in the past couple of years.

Ministry is happeneing just because we are who we are, not because we are forcing it. St Francis' words ring just as true now as ever "preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words." It is my prayer that God would help us all to see where our presence is all that is needed.