I am from Alabama. Therefore, I am a tomato aficionado. I do not mean to sound stuck up, but if you have never picked a fat Alabama tomato in midsummer, sliced it thick and put it between two pieces of Wonder Bread, spread thick with mayonnaise, then you have never really tasted a tomato.
I will grant you that tomatoes from the grocery store look better. In fact, each is a clone of the other. Perfectly round, bright red, and not a blemish, the only problem is they taste terrible. In fact, “taste” is too strong a word for them.
In Christian circles, you will often hear the idea of “fruit” tossed around. Jesus said you will know a tree by its fruit, and of course we know that to be true. But what happens when you trade a consistent look for a deep flavor? What happens when you define fruit as having a uniform appearance versus being flavorful? I agree the goal of the church is to create beautiful fruit, but how do you measure good fruit?
You can mass-produce a beautiful looking fruit or vegetable, but you cannot mass-produce a tasty fruit or vegetable. To achieve sweet, nutritious produce you must be willing to live with a variety of blemishes, shapes, and sizes. You will need to allow that some fruit is oddly shaped or colored.
What is true in the produce world is true for the church. You can have large, uniform gatherings that look appealing but lack sweetness and nutrition, or you can have “ugly on the outside” communities that have a unique substance under the covering.
The church today has confused uniformity with unity. When a church forms it must decide whether to value unity or uniformity. You cannot have both. Uniformity is the archenemy of unity. People are most likely to gather with others who look, believe, achieve, earn, and live in a similar manner. But those kinds of gatherings do not require the supernatural love of Jesus.
For example, it is not difficult to create a mass gathering of economically stable, white Republicans. There is nothing wrong with being a resourced white person, but it is not difficult to love people who are like us. Here are some ways to discern if a church may have confused juicy fruit with pretty fruit (or uniformity instead of unity):
- Policies—When a large number of policies exist, the result will be a group that is able to conform. It replaces the high value of each relationship having unique needs and challenges with the relative ease of assuming everyone needs the same thing. Does a single mom only get one gas card because that is the policy? Or should each situation be uniquely considered?
- Time Limits—My experience in many churches is you have about 6 months to make significant change. If you are still getting high, drunk, laid, have a contentious marriage or are just socially deficient then something must be done. The assumption? Most people will change in 6 months. The church becomes populated with “quick change” folks, but the “slow change” folks are nowhere to be found.
- Undisturbed Worship—When you have a gathering that includes large numbers of marginalized people you cannot have a smooth service. Impossible. Many marginalized folks do not have the social grace to understand when to be quiet when someone prays, for example. Folks with mental illness ask questions in the middle of sermons. Folks without resources smell and ask for money.
The fruit of our small, fringe gathering is ugly. It is different, weird, and disruptive. But it is filled with love, acceptance and hopefully juicy fruit.