24 March 2010

Busted Jalopy

by Frank Turk

There's this guy I used to work with.

He and I had a few conversations about the Christian faith because he says he's a Christian, but he doesn't go to church anymore -- and here's the irony: it's not because church is too judgmental. It's because, as he says, church is too full of pretty people.

That's his phrase: "pretty people". Now, if you ask him what that means, he'll tell you that he's a pretty messed-up guy with a lot of spiritual problems, and a church full of pretty people with no problems doesn't do anything for him but frustrate him. Their lives don't encourage him or make him a better person or turn him toward God: their lives actually discourage him because he knows, frankly, that he'll never get there.

Now, before we break out the big Calvinist "we're #1" fingers and start playing the Fight Song, that's not all of this guy's thoughts. He's also a guy who doesn't really like the idea of hell and wants to qualify it as separation only, and he's ultimately not into a church that is going to make demands on him.

But I bring this up for a couple of reasons. The first one is this -- we really have to answer the questions people have, and not the questions we wish they had. In one sense, those of us with the Gospel are driving along on the highway of life and we see a lot of cars on the side of the road -- all kinds of breakdowns -- and we are in the only bus that is going to get people to someplace other than the junkyard. And we're supposed to be stopping and picking people up, not just driving past and worrying about these people.

But if we stop the bus and get out wearing a tuxedo (or, for the ladies reading, a wedding dress) and tell these people we've come to help, they're probably not going to take our offer at face value -- because they don't really need a pretty person in nice clothes to help them with a busted jalopy: at the very least, they think they need a mechanic, or a cell phone to call a mechanic, or maybe a guy with a toolbox. They're not looking for someone in clothes so nice that they'd be afraid to mess them up.

The other reason to bring this up is that while they may recognize some part of the problem, the other half of the truth is that they don't really know what they need. They have "felt needs", right? They might be worried that they can't get to work because their car is busted, or they might be worried that they can't afford a new car so this old one has to keep running. But the real solution for anyone is that they have to get on the bus. They don't have to pay a fare, they don't have to sit in any particular seat: they just have to get on the bus and leave the old car behind.

That solution may not seem intuitive to them -- even though it seems really obvious to us. So as we try to get people on the bus, let me suggest that we not forget that the goal is to get people on the bus because the wrecker is coming. Their busted jalopy will get picked up by the wrecker, and they need to leave the busted jalopy or they are going to go where it is going.

We probably should be dressed in a way that they'll believe us when we tell them to get on the bus, but they have to get on the bus -- and the reason is not because the bus will take them where they think they want to go: it's because the jalopy is going someplace they definitely don't want to go, whether they believe it or not.


John said...

That's a pretty good analogy, Frankster. I live in the "Bible belt", and man alive, church is a place to park your Ultimate Driving Machine and sport your perfectly manicured and permed and botoxed little keister (I'm referring to the males, here...don't get me started on the ladies). And the fake perfect self? Well, they stretch it to cover their souls as well.

Death or Glory Toad said...

I'm sad about what I've seen in Cali. Perfect Everything-Tailor-Fit-And-Polished or Perfect-In-Grundgy-Needy-Patented-Look.

And churches custom-made to cater to them all. Weird how the bus doesn't seem to have a scheduled stop nearby but there are plenty of churchianity carpools and remain-as-you-are rideshares.

David Regier said...

Your multi-faceted analogy is cracking my brain a little, but hey, what's the meta for?

What kind of clothes does the bus driver give us?

joel said...

Several years ago I probably could have thought of 8 or 9 good reasons not to set foot in a church, and if someone had taken the time to each of those reasons with me and laid them aside I could have probably have thought of another 8 of 9 reasons not to go with out much trouble. I agree that we should not try and answer the questions we think people should be asking. My point is that we should answer the questions that the bible demands they should be asking, like: am I a sinner? have I broken God's perfect law? If God judges me based on His law when I die will I be innocent or guilty. And then offer them the good news about why they don't have to go to hell.

Offering the good news of the gospel of our Lord to someone that doesn't believe in a hell of torment, but only separation, is like is like offering a cup of water to a thirsty man who is convinced that he is drowning. Forgiveness can have no meaning without the weight of sin. And if you come to Jesus for any other reason than the forgiveness of sin than you are coming for the wrong reason, and will always - always fall away when your felt need is not met.

Reforming Guy said...

As long as clothes represent how we present ourselves and are not an analogy for "put on the new man," then yeah, I totally agree.

And if I can stretch your analogy just a little farther, the bus is going to the Mechanic, the bus is not full of mechanics nor is it a traveling repair shop. The church is pointing the way to God. It is not a "glorified" self-help meeting.

Janice said...

"We really have to answer the questions people have, and not the questions we wish they had."

Boy, that's a mouth-full there. Very true! I'm going to chew on that for the rest of the day.

Thanks, Frank!

Merrilee Stevenson said...

I like the analogy well enough. Just think that it needs to be "unpacked" a little more, pardon the pun. What does "wearing a tuxedo" really mean? What are the real-life equivalents to being "over-dressed for the occasion" and how would a person practically tone it down? For lack of a better way of putting it: where does the rubber meet the road? : )

And my verification word: soock (like sock, but with a hole in it.) LOL.

FX Turk said...

I think unpacking this metaphor too much does a dis-service to the point.

For the record, the tuxedo is everything we do which is an offense which we put on which is not an offense which is inherent in the Gospel. Apply that liberally.

David Rudd said...

i think this is a great post. it shall ruminate for the rest of the day. thanks.

Rachael Starke said...


If I understand Frank correctly, I think it's any way we let our fear of not appearing holy or above reproach or not oozing enough integrity (which is really just the soul-killing fear of man),

keep us from talking openly about our battles with sin and faithlessness, and how Jesus has not only won the war for us, but is also actively, right now, giving us weapons to fight and win those battles.

Stefan Ewing said...


This is a great post, and a great illustration, man!

Would that we had oil-stained hands and coveralls from working, living, and wrestling with the Gospel, when we stop to help out lost drivers along the Highway.

Stefan Ewing said...

I once knew a non-believer (when I was a non-believer, too) who referred to so-called "pretty people" as "squeaky clean Christians."

I wear a suit to church once a month, to help serve communion—not because it's required, but to meet the importance of the occasion. There are some months when I wish my suit was moth-bitten and rumpled, so that I didn't look like a "pretty person" on the outside while feeling like Nadab or Abihu on the inside.

Deborah said...

Many months ago, Dan had a competition which involved choosing your favourite post. Being a newbie here, I thought he meant Pyro post, and I chose this one. Dan wasn't impressed: I was meant to choose a DJP post. Surprise, surprise I didn't win the competition.

But I do still love this post, and I know I shall read it several times over the next few days. Thank you Mr Turk.

FX Turk said...

I need to tell a story about this which I will likely move to the front page. About 2 years ago this guy shows up at our church during the sunday school hour. Now, mind you: I loved (and love) that church and its people, and I was a teacher there.

So this guy shows up, and he's filthy. By "filthy", I mean obviously hasn't changed his clothes in a week, hasn't bathed. And he is just sitting in the church by the nursery in a corner on a chair. He looks horrible, and to my shock not one person is greeting him or even acknowledging him. So, of course, I do.

I ask him if he's OK, and he tells me that he has to get to Ft. Smith by tomorrow morning to get to his VA appointment because he needs his doctor to prescribe him new medication. He pulls out this piece of paper with an appointment time on it from the VA in Ft. Smith as if to make sure I kknew he was telling the ruth.

OK, I say to him, but are you OK? Can I do anything for you?

He tells me he slept outside last night, and he accidentally walked through a creek on his way over here, and he just needed to warm up before he moved on.

Where'd you come from, I asked him -- thinking he'd say someplace in OK or east of our town.

Branson, he says. I was working in Brnson this week, and I have to get back to Ft. Smith.

mind you: Branson was about 120 miles away, so this guy walked from Branson to here and had about another 100 miles to go.

When was the last time you ate? I asked him.

Not sure, he said.

Listen, I said to him, come sit with me in church, and afterward I'll drive you to Ft. Smith and find you a place to stay. I can even get you a bite to eat.

Now look: this is the set up, not the point. The set-up is that this guy right here walked into my church.

The point is that he said this: I can't. You people are too nice, and I'm a mess. I don't want to offend anyone.

It does not matter a sliver that I took him to Ft. Smith and bought him food and a place to stay for two days so he could get his doctor's appointment settled, or that someone who reads my blog followed-up for me to take him to the doctor and make sure he had a way to get home: the point is that my middle-class life in my middle-class church made this man think he could not worship God with me.

We talked for a couple of hours in the car on the way to Ft. Smith, and he was a Christian -- the kind you find everywhere in the South. he believed in Jesus. But he believed that if he was dirty and homeless the church as no place for him.

Live that a little while. Soak it in. If that's what we call the Gospel makes us, I suggest that we have a problem.

Rob Bailey said...

A question- Would the people you are begging to be reconciled to God (assuming you are), feel comfortable at YOUR church if they repent and believe?

A question- If the answer to question one in no, what do YOU do about it?

Janice said...

Whoa, Frank! That is painful! I love the people at my church, but I fear he would have gotten the same response and felt just as out of place.

What really stings is that the "filthy" people (on the outside), the prostitutes, the lepers, the homeless, the Samaritans....they CAME to Jesus! They felt comfortable coming to Him, but they wouldn't feel comfortable coming to us. Ouch!

So how do we fix that? Because, let's face it, I am no better than the prostitute walking the street right now. I was just as immoral, just as sexually depraved, just as impure when the Lord save me. And He's not finished with me yet - I STILL have problems. MAJOR problems. But I don't exactly want to wear my sinfulness as clothing to church on Sunday, so I'm at a lost as to how to fix this.

I think I need to read the book of Acts again. I don't think anyone saw The Way as "pretty people".

Anonymous said...

I really like this metaphor/parable/analogy. But as you stated, there's problems with pushing any of these illustrative genres farther than warranted. Thinking on this and reading the meta, it seems there's an innate tension between the truth that we who have been redeemed by the Gospel are now clothed in pure garments, and commanded to continually put on the new man by living as redeemed, perfected people(in the positional, not practical sense). As such we no longer are the filthy unkempt beings we once were. But on the other hand, we are still people with active sin natures and far from perfected and "pretty" in practice. The tension is in living in a manner that shows both - the transparent reality of being imperfect like everyone else, yet not obscuring the glory of Christ that is being revealed in us. So the real question is - how do we do that?

Rob Bailey said...

Phil- the answer is to be like Jesus.

Samaritan woman.
The blind.
The lepers.
The sinners.
The tax collectors.
The prostitutes.
The demon possessed.
The lame.
The dead.
The drunks.
The outcast.
The poor.
The widow.
The orphan.
The sick.
The imprisoned.
The depressed.
The fishermen.
The lonely.
The goth.
The biker.
The framer.
The homeless.
The rock and roller.
The junkie.
The pot head.
The guy next to you on the pew.

Love them.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

Thank you Rachael for helping to clarify--especially after Frank's first reply had my head spinning.

Man, Frank! This is hard stuff. I think you're talking straight to me. Raising that eyebrow... : )

The Lord has been reminding me today of my own ugly prideful self-righteousness, and I was thinking it mainly had to do with some Christian friends that I was being judgmental of. (Sigh) And now I'm reminded of how often I am like Jonah when it comes to sharing the gospel with the people in my own community! (Sometimes I not only feel like I don't fit in, but even that I don't like them very much!) Yikes. Shameful. I'm humbled by this.

And I'm trying to look beyond the heap of ashes that I need to be sitting in to the "what to do next." If I, being a lower-middle-class person who knows how to dress well enough, were to come face to face with a certain person whom I respect and who is rather famous, I would feel a bit unworthy. What do I think he would have to do to help me overcome that? I think he'd have to extend himself beyond my expectations. He'd have to insist I come to his house for a meal and to hang out with his wife and kids, and ask me the kind of questions that indicate he's genuinely interested in getting to know me, not just that I know everything about him. He'd have to invite me over more than once, I think, to convince me that I wasn't just another person on a list of persons he's obligated to meet and greet.

I'm just thinking out loud. But when I think of the 8+ people who immediately come to mind that I claim to care about and want to share the gospel with, only 3 have set foot in my house, but all under some kind of premise.

(sigh.) What more needs to be said?

FX Turk said...

Rob --

The answer to your last question is, "love those people so that they will love others, too."

I have this suspicion that many people will leave a church because it's too "pretty" as much as they would leave it for being too "unholy". I think we start by loving one another -- and as we do that, we break the hardness of each others' hearts to bits.

David Rudd said...

Careful Frank.

Your tone is getting downright compassionate!

Seriously, This is powerful stuff. I've had the opportunity over the past five weeks to watch the people at my church live this out. A man wandered into our Saturday night service five weeks ago who was similar to your description.

Several people went out of their way to sit at his table.

He's been back four out of five weeks, and last Saturday night he prayed with one of our men to give his life to Christ... after a sermon on Ecclesiastes 12.

Sure, he heard the gospel laid out plainly, but I don't think he would have listened if he hadn't been loved unconditionally first. Made me proud to be those people's pastor... (proud in a sanctified way, of course!)

David McKay said...

Frank, most churches I've been in have been filled with messed-up people like me.
Some of them hide it for a while, though.

[Psssst: don't tell the people in my church I said this, OK!]

Marie said...

Not to be argumentative, but my Mom (who is not a believer) was rather disgusted when she visited my brother's Church (Church of the Nazarene) because everyone was wearing flannel shirts and blue jeans.

In her opinion, church was a place you should dress for. She felt she, in her casual Friday clothes, was the best dressed woman in the whole place.

So that knife can cut both ways.

Michael said...

Frank, your post about the smelly guy echoes what I was about to say about tuxedos.

This is a different analogy, using the tux image differently, but...

Suppose you get out in your white tuxedo, fix the bloke's broken car, but your tux is still spotless, what would he say if you offered him one of these tuxedos? Jesus gave me this suit.

We put on the goodness of Christ. Any other goodnes we put on is, or will become, pharisaism. "I'm better than you."

I'm so proud of our church here, our local smelly man was a part of our congregation for a couple of years, until his health took him away, and was WELCOMED.

It's a different analogy to yours, using tux in a difernt way. But it's what you did with the smelly guy. Nothing else could have told him so clearly that he is welcome, no, that he belongs, in the church with you.

Michael Hutton,
Ariah Park, NSW

Rob Bailey said...


FX Turk said...

Marie --

I do think it cuts both ways. I think the fraudulent "authenticity" of shabby chic is not any better than the fraudulent formality and pomp of business suits and jumbotrons.

There is someplace where we are both humble and joyful, serious and kind. I am reminded of the Piper quote that says, "The greatest cause in the world is joyfully rescuing people from hell, meeting their earthly needs,
making them glad in God, and doing it with a kind, serious pleasure
that makes Christ look like the treasue he is."

Can we strive for that?

mike said...

why does a person put on a tuxedo or a wedding dress?
are they getting married? hopefully once per lifetime.
is it their uniform?
not usually.
does it portray them to those who don't really know them, as something different than they really are?
i suspect that is usually the case.
i fear that we have grown to accept that the appearance of holiness is actually the goal that most of us churchgoers are aiming for.
to jump to another analogy altogether, i suspect that is why we were always taught by scriptures to inspect fruit, not foliage.

Rob Bailey said...

just for fun

Aaron's priestly robes vs. John the baptist's wilderness getup.

Anonymous said...

Gimmicks and hype do not save. God draws those to Himself (John 6:44). We need to sincerely live out our lives to glorify God.

Jim Pemberton said...

True compassion lends itself significantly to practical epistemology.

Twenty-percenters in good churches can become insular. That is, ministry can be difficult and the ones who do the bulk of the ministry in the church understand the difficulties enough to minister to each other through the difficulties. As a result they can become cliquish and come off to outsiders as the spiritual upper class. Without realizing it, they may decline in compassion for the eighty-percenters or outsiders who need their strength on a personal level in order to grow spiritually. Some eighty-percenters or outsiders may even come to feel envious of their social status as an outcropping of their spiritual status and feel that they aren't worthy to associate with people so high on the spiritual totem pole. They may come to feel that they are not a significant or desired part of the church and subsequently spend their time elsewhere - with buddies from work, the gym, etc - NOT sharing the gospel because that could result in a lack of acceptance among those who most accept them.

So, knowing one's place in the Body of Christ is aided by the compassion of intentional fellowship and personal concern of those who are already intricately involved in the church.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it ironic that Princess Diana raised the standard of "dress" and yet was idolized? It's the sin issue that people don't want to address.