Walls Don’t Work


Walls don’t work.
Not if you are a Jesus follower.
Walls don’t work.

I was 16 years old and nearly 3,000 kilometers from home. I was standing on dusty concrete, just feet from a busy highway in Monterry, Mexico. The people around me were singing, “I exalt Thee” in several languages. An extension cord ran from the pallet crate stage, across four lanes of traffic to a house across the way to power our sound system. The air was thick with dust and sweat and tears. People prayed and sang and wept. The love we shared was palpable. It felt like church. It was church. Yet, there were no walls.

I had never been in an open air church before. I am from Manitoba where the only months we’re not buried in snow, finds us plagued by mosquitos. Shelter is important. It’s vital for survival. There was something so captivating about standing outside, near a busy street, in a bustling neighborhood and holding church. It felt like we all belonged—all of us—the pastors and congregation, the shop owner on his stoop across the lane and the mom pulling her wagon down the sidewalk and us, the clueless, white, privileged, “missionary” kids. We all belonged. To each other. And in that moment.

We all belonged, I think, because there were no walls to define “our” space from the common space. We all belonged because all the space was ours and none of it was.

Jesus held church outside all the time. He didn’t own a building. There was no stewardship program or building campaign in his ministry. He preferred all the possibilities that outside brought. And it was simpler to hold church outside than repair roofs. (See Luke 5:19.)

I think Jesus realized that the fewer barriers people had to get to him, the better. I think he knew that if he just hung around outside long enough, chatting with whoever was around, the person he was waiting for, the person looking for him, without even realizing it, would eventually wander by and be found. I think Jesus planned the whole thing, this all access-approach to ministry. I think he planned it, because he knew that it gave him the opportunity to cast the widest net.

If Jesus only hung out in temples, then only Jews would have found him. If he only visited leper colonies then only the ill would have found him. If he only ate with tax collectors, then only the crooks would have found him. If he only travelled in Samaria, then only the outcasts would have found him.

Jesus didn’t just want to be known by one type of person, he wanted to be known by all people. So he hung around outside, on random hills, beside popular lakes, in regular towns. Just waiting to find any who were looking to be found.

Jesus knew walls wouldn’t work. Not for the type of kingdom he was building. He didn’t dream of an exclusive, members-only kingdom and he didn’t preach an elite gospel. Jesus planned for an inclusive kingdom where he was, and is, the Good News.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul explains this concept using the analogy of a body. We, the ones Jesus came to find, are all one body. We all belong and have a function and hold value to this body. What would happen if we started putting tourniquets on this body? What would happen if we tried to put a barrier between the hand and the arm, between the toe and the foot, between the head and the neck? The body would lose circulation. Blood would cease to flow, organs would begin to shut down and before long, the whole body would die. A body was not designed to live in sections.

And neither is the church.
Walls don’t work.
Not if we want to be the fulfilled dream of Christ.

I am grateful for the upbringing I had in the church. I am forever indebted to the dozens of teachers, mentors and pastors who led me by the hand to the feet of Jesus. I am so very appreciative of the education in faith I received and the encouragement I was given to make my faith personal, to spend the time to really know Jesus for myself. It was that encouragement that has brought me here, to this moment in my ever-evolving faith.

The Jesus who knows me, never once asked someone what their theology of women in church leadership was before he welcomed them to lean into his words. He never once questioned their sexual orientation or gender identity before serving them from the bounty of loaves and fishes. He didn’t stop to inquire about their baptism practices before healing their bodies and restoring their minds. He didn’t ask for a pastoral reference before inviting them to follow him.

Do we place too many barriers and build too many walls, between the people who are looking to be found and the One Who Finds? I feel like we have spent generations getting bogged down in the minutia of theology and missed opportunities to cast our nets wide. It seems to me that we have placed tourniquets in the name of preservation when we are actually causing our own death.

What if we embrace the church of Jesus’ dream? What if we become the Church Without Walls? What if we welcome everyone? What if we do away with tables and trying to figure out who has a seat and who doesn’t and instead we just spread blankets everywhere for everyone. What if church looked less like a formal reception and looked more like a family picnic?

What if we started knocking down walls and opening our hearts to conversation and relationship?

What if we did all of this? I wonder what it could look like?