There’s a story in today’s Post-Dispatch about a local congregation and its dispute with the Missouri Baptist Convention. It seems the church has been encouraging its members to go to bars, and the convention isn’t happy about that.
I agree with the pastor of the church: The people aren’t going to come to you, so the church has to find people where they are.I don’t drink. I don’t remember now if the last time I drank alcohol outside of communion was at a friend’s wedding in June 2003, or at my sister’s wedding in September 2003, but in either case, it’s been three years since I had a drink. I generally agree with the Southern Baptist idea that the world would be a better place without alcohol. Alcohol destroyed my relationship with my Dad, and alcohol played a role in the disintegration of two romantic relationships before I met my wife. So I’m not a fan of the stuff.
But there was a time, when I was 23, when I’d go out for a beer with three of the guys from my Bible study group in Columbia, Missouri. We’d meet up for the group, go through the lesson and discussion, then go get a beer. Usually the discussion from the study carried over there. While some fundamentalists disagree, the Bible doesn’t say alcohol consumption is a sin. It says drunkenness is a sin.
I’d rather people didn’t drink, but that’s not practical. Nothing I can do is going to stop people from drinking, so there’s no point in me making a big deal about it.
The Bible is very clear about one other thing though. They say to go find hurting people and bring healing to them. And I really can’t think of a better place to find hurting people than at a bar. When people have had a bad day, a bad week, a bad year, or a bad life and they don’t know what else to do, frequently they go have a drink. It doesn’t solve their problems, but at least it helps them forget them for a while.
And that’s no secret. Even alcoholics know that alcohol doesn’t actually solve any of their problems.
And that’s the natural place for a church to come in. The bar doesn’t have any solutions, but the church does.
Evangelism, whether at a bar or anywhere else, is a gift and it’s possible to do as much harm as good. So if the Missouri Baptist Convention doesn’t know how to evangelize in bars and doesn’t want to do that, it should stay out.
But if a group knows how to do it and is helping people–and The Journey must be doing more than one thing right because it has 1,300 members and has planted another church and is planning to do another–then it shouldn’t be condemned for it. Most churches are aging and shrinking; The Journey’s median age is 29. It’s reaching a generation that very few other churches have had any success reaching.
Frankly, other churches need to be learning from it.