Shane Claiborne went to India to work with lepers. They are the rejects and outcasts of Indian society. Speaking of that experience, Shane said this:
I knew what Jesus meant when he told Peter that the ‘gates of hell would not prevail’ against the church, as I was finally seeing a church that was storming the gates of hell itself to save people from its horrors (The Irresistible Revolution).
Shane discovered what all other men and women of faith understand: that heaven is best found when we head toward hell, that Jesus is most active where death abounds, and grace and mercy shine brightest in the darkness of sin. That is why he and his community, The Simple Way, sought out the worst and most crime-filled area of Philadelphia, and then sought to redeem and transform it with acts of love, mercy, and kindness.
They are not the only ones taking the church to hell. Gabe Lyons, in his book The Next Christians, shares the stories of numerous individuals and groups which are looking for the darkest and dirtiest places on planet earth, and then going there intentionally to share the love of Jesus with the people they find.
He writes about Gary Haugen who founded the International Justice Mission to target sex trafficking.
He writes about Mike Foster who set up a booth at the adult entertainment expo in Las Vegas and handed out Bibles with hot pink and yellow covers with this message on the cover: “Jesus Loves Porn Stars.”
Gabe says that for Christians who want to bring the light of the gospel to a dark and dying world, “running away is not an option.”
Quite to the contrary of running away, Craig Gross argues in his book, The Gutter, that as followers of Jesus, the church is not supposed to simply go to the downtrodden and outcast, but actually live there. Ministering, loving, and serving those in the hellish places on earth is not a church program where we descend from our gleaming white steeples once a week or so to hand out food and pats on the back.
No, as followers of Jesus, we leave our homes of comfort and ease, and go live with those who are alone and hurting in the gutters of life. Craig writes that going to the gutter of life “isn’t just a chance to take a peep around, throw out some Gospel tracts, and then head home. If that’s your mindset, then please don’t even go at all.”
We must feel the heat of its flames, smell the smoke of its fire, see the tears of its victims, and hear their cries of pain. We must camp out at the gates of hell, and not leave until every person has been rescued. We must stay there, live there, build friendships there, and do whatever it takes to rescue people from darkness and bring them into the kingdom of God’s mercy and love.
This is the radical mission of Jesus. And if the church is going to join Jesus in this task, some of the radical changes which have been suggested in this book may be necessary. Some of these changes may result in the destruction of the church as we know it. It may feel like your church is dying. But if these changes allow us to accomplish the mission of Jesus and live out the gospel as followers of Jesus in this world, then the church has not died, but risen to new life.
If we close our church so we can better accomplish the mission and purposes of Jesus, we have closed our church for good!