On Sunday mornings, I lead worship at my church. I look out and look at my congregation. Many of them are unemployed, some of them stay on the street, many of them struggle to make ends meet. Many in my congregation are visibly broken and noticeably hurting. We collect an offering, because stewardship is important regardless of whether you are rich or you are poor. Our offerings are never large, and they are never enough to cover the expenses of the church. However, our offerings, even though they may be humble, are a honest and heartfelt offering to God in response to God’s goodness.
Many people may look at our church and see little value in it. We are a small church, we are made up of simple people. Those of us who are employed do not have particularly spectacular jobs. We are not up on the latest fashion, and our building sometimes feels as though it’s held together with duct tape. We have a relatively small number of people in worship on Sunday mornings, and we don’t offer a lot of other programs. Many in my congregation are invisible people: no one wants to see them, no one cares to see them, no one wants to speak to them.
We like to jokingly talk about how we’re all kind of messed up, although that is quite true, the only difference between us and a church made of upper class folks is that our “messed up” nature is in the open. Our congregation is made of up folks whom many people might look down their nose at, or will call a “social problem.”
It’s true, we are broken people, but I think that we’re honest about our brokenness. We are imperfect people, but we don’t try to hide our imperfections (and often we cannot). We are a people who are wholly dependent on the grace and provision of God, and we pray every day for our daily bread.
We are not a self-sustaining church, we don’t have many tangible resources to offer to other churches. We are almost wholly reliant upon outside support by churches and individuals who think that what we do is important and that our ministry is valuable. But what makes our ministry valuable? What gives our ministry value?
Simply put, our church has value because those to whom and with whom we minister have value. The folks in our neighborhood don’t have value because they have special skills that are particularly in demand, our folks don’t have value because they have resources which greatly benefit our church or the community, our folks don’t have value because they are especially theologically or biblically astute. Our folks have value for one simple reason: they are made in the image of God.
When it comes down to it, though, isn’t that the only reason that any of us have value? We have a relatively new cultural language when talking about the value of people. We talk about “job creators” and why they are more important than others. Sometimes people talk of a “productive class.” We place a monetary value on people and regard them accordingly. This narrative, however, is tragically false. Any value that we have as people solely arises from the fact that we are made in the image of God, and we all equally share this value.
This is why our ministry has value: because we teach people that they have value. One of my favorite things to do is to look someone in the eye and tell them, “You are made in the image of God.” Not simply some abstract concept such as, “humankind is made in the image of God,” but a personal “you.” I want people to know this and I want people to believe this. Everyone needs to have a sense of value and everyone needs to be able to have dignity.
Some people know this, but they don’t really believe it. It is a difficult thing to believe. It is difficult to believe that we have worth or value when no one seems to care much for you or about you. When your landlord won’t fix anything in your flat, when you can’t get a call back after a job interview, when people are afraid to drive through your neighborhood, when people won’t shake your hand or sit next to you.
Sometimes this is difficult for me to remember as well. Sometimes someone shows up at church in the same clothes they’ve been wearing for at least a week, sleeping under an overpass. Sometimes they smell of alcohol. Sometimes it is difficult to remember that these folks, too, are made in the image of God. This understanding, this deep belief is crucial. It is not simply a way to feel better about oneself, it truly forms the narrative in which you see yourself or others.
I always say that God meets us right where we are, but that God loves us too much to let us stay there. Part of discipleship is to be transformed more and more into the image of Christ, it is to allow God to transform us into better people than we are. This transformation is not so that we will have value, this transformation is because we already have value. God doesn’t transform us in order to make it possible for God to love us, God transforms us because God loves us.
I love and care for my people not because they have great skills or can do great things. I love and care for my folks because they have the highest value that one can claim, being made in the image of God. None of us are valuable because of what we can do, or what we have. We are valuable because we are children of God. This can be a difficult lesson, not only for others, but for ourselves as well. However, it is a lesson which we must continue to strive to learn, because it is only when we understand that our value or anyone’s value is in being children of God made in the image of God, that we will ever understand the value of ourselves or anyone else.