'Barrier of fear' hinders ministry, Steve Sumerel says
January 10 2003 by Steve DeVane , BR Managing Editor

'Barrier of fear' hinders ministry, Steve Sumerel says | Friday, Jan. 10, 2003

Friday, Jan. 10, 2003

'Barrier of fear' hinders ministry, Steve Sumerel says

By Steve DeVane BR Managing Editor

Churches may unknowingly be "sending signals of exclusion" while they are trying to minister in a diverse world, a church consultant said.

Steve Sumerel, a member of the Baptist State Convention's (BSC) Christian Life team, told a breakout session at the BSC meeting in November that a lot of people are leaving churches.

"I'm not exactly sure why," he said.

Sumerel said he works with people who "by overt or covert means" feel excluded from the church. He works with people who have AIDS or HIV and people who are addicted to substances or behaviors.

Church members might be sending signals to those people that they're not welcome, Sumerel said.

"One thing we need to do is look at ourselves," he said.

Sumerel talked about the story of the leper in Matthew 8. The leper told Jesus, "If you will, you can make me clean." Sumerel said he wondered why Jesus wouldn't have healed the leper.

He found the answer at an AIDS retreat during a late-night discussion about a new drug. The conversation had a lot of energy until someone pointed out that the talk sounded like previous promises that didn't pan out and that most of them would probably be dead before the drug hit the market anyway.

Sumerel remembered the story of the leper and imagined the leper and his diseased friends initially being exciting about hearing of Jesus' healing works until someone said that Jesus sounded like previous failed healers and that He probably wouldn't heal lepers because he'd have to touch them.

"Jesus did touch and heal (the leper), but the biggest miracle was that Jesus was able to punch through all that religiosity and theology that said, 'This person brought it on himself,'" Sumerel said. "He had to push through the barrier of fear."

Sumerel recalled his feelings the first time someone with AIDS hugged him, the first time one of them cried and their tears got on him and the first time one of them sneezed on him.

The retreats serve a dual purpose of helping those with AIDS and serving as a "learning lab" to help people get through barriers.

"The Bible is clear, there is one body," Sumerel said. "We have to get through all these barriers to get through to unity."

There are reasons why the church must minister in a diverse world, he said.

"We do it because Christ did it," he said. "We are Christ's church, we must.

"There's a lot of folks out there who feel excluded from the church and they need the grace of the gospel desperately."

Sumerel said Christians need the blessing that comes through such ministry.

"It works both ways," he said.

People who are being excluded from churches are the type of folks that Jesus loved to be with, Sumerel said.

"It's the religious folks He really had a problem with," he said.

Sumerel said the "lone ranger approach" to ministry will not work in the changing cultural landscape of North Carolina.

"There is no 'us vs. them,'" he said. "They say to us, 'If you will, you can touch our hearts.' May we respond as Christ did."

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1/10/2003 12:00:00 AM by Steve DeVane , BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments
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