Prison Tats, Race Wars and White Collars: Why the Church Should be Rough Around the Middle


What happens when folks discover the stuff that’s just below the surface—that we fundamentally disagree about Trayvon Martin or gay marriage or our president? 

Do we shake the hand of the man any differently when we hear him use the “F word” to describe how excited he is about preparing to worship the God he has just come to know and love? How will the blue collar worker who puts in 55 hours a week treat the single mother of three on food stamps when he finds out she’s not even looking for a job?

The reason most congregations are homogenous is because true community is rough around the middle. Once we start to move centripetally from the smooth edge of cordiality, we’re in for a bumpy ride. 

Real people are messy. The only way for a community to handle the rough middle is to believe in a gospel that’s bigger than our baggage; to trust that a greater truth than our uniqueness is the commonality that we share in our redemption.

I think that’s what Paul is getting at when he writes to the church in Philippi, “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with one another in the Lord” (Philippians 4:2). 

We may not agree about personal issues or social issues. We may have problems with too much wealth or with what leads to poverty. We may struggle to value an addict or criminal. Our politics and preferences will run afoul to each other. Our neighborhoods and incomes may be the difference between night and day. 

But if we agree with one another in the Lord, then these differences need not divide.

Beware of the homogenous church. It’s the community that is rough around the middle that believes in a gospel big enough to sustain it. 

If our gospel isn’t bigger than our politics, then it’s a false gospel. If our gospel isn’t bigger than our tax bracket, then it’s a false gospel. If our gospel isn’t bigger than breast augmentation or prison tattoos, then it’s a false gospel. 

At the end of the day, if we can’t agree with one another in the Lord, then our Lord is too small. And a Lord that small isn’t worthy of our gathering together to worship him anyway.  

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Scott Castleman
Scott Castleman is a third generation Presbyterian pastor. He and his wife Rebecca have been married for fifteen years. They have three children. Scott received his bachelor’s degree in Biblical studies from Belhaven University in 1998. After four years in full time youth ministry he attended Reformed Theological Seminary and Princeton Theological Seminary where he received a Masters of Divinity in 2006. He has been the senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church (EPC) in Ocean Springs, MS since 2009. He is currently working on a Doctorate of Ministry from Reformed Theological Seminary with a focus on leadership.

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