Riley brings so much to our church meetings. He has profound wisdom and insights which open up the Scriptures for others. He leads the church in moments of powerful worship. He comes alongside others and encourages them. He notices people’s pain and speaks directly to it, asking if he can pray for them. He reaches out to untouchable people, and touches them deeply.
Riley wouldn’t be considered “leadership material” in most churches. To start with, he’s homeless. Sometimes he lives in a shelter with some other guys; sometimes he lives on the streets. He doesn’t always turn up. He doesn’t always dress right. We all know he slips back into his old lifestyle from time to time – and if you knew his life story, you wouldn’t judge him for it. Then there’s the fact that he’s undereducated. His reading level wouldn’t be high enough to read and understand a lot of the Bible – but for all that, he seems to “get it” at a deep level.
The truth is, in most churches, Riley wouldn’t be allowed to speak up at all – except perhaps to share his “testimony” (a glamorous account of how different his life was “before” and “after” Christ – without reference to the messiness he continues to live with on a daily basis). The majority of church meetings are still structured in the old-school format of a paid professional speaking at rows of passive spectators. Only the “expert” is entitled to speak in this model of ministry. Our Universities, schools and businesses used to be like this too – until recently. In the 21st century, this approach doesn’t make sense anymore. Theologically, it never did make sense. It’s a very Old Testament approach to the New Testament relationship between Jesus (the Head) and his church (the Body). How can God’s people take part in actively loving one another if they are positioned to sit silently and passively whenever they gather?
I look forward to seeing churches where Riley and his mates are allowed to speak freely, and share their wisdom, life experience and understanding of Christ with the rest of us. Where God’s people meet face-to-face and speak openly and honestly with one another. Where the Rileys of this world are given the opportunity to find their voice, find their gifts and find their place in the body.
You see, our God is a liberational God. He came to release the prisoners. To heal the sick. To break the chains of addictions. To give a voice to the voiceless. To place value on the undervalued. To lift up the weak. To empower the disempowered.
I thank God that Riley has found his voice and has been empowered to use his gifts in the Body of Christ. The world is a better place because of him.