I want to thank Kathy for a conversation a group of us had over cocktails in Albuquerque. This is what came to my mind as we were discussing “upper-deck people” and “lower-deck people” in relation to the church.
In some churches (please re-read the word some), there seems to be two sets of people: the upper-deck people and the lower-deck people. This analogy recalls the movie Titanic. The upper-deck people have/give all the money, make the decisions, have the authority and are the core target. One might use the words refined, polished and orthodox to describe those on the upper deck. The lower-deck people are the poor, broken, and marginalized…they don’t dress fancy, can’t give much, and are simply the “plain” everyday people. One might use the words unrefined, tarnished and unorthodox to describe those on the lower decks.
Some churches begin well intentioned ministries for the lower-deck people, usually led by some willing members of the upper-deck. What usually ends up happening is those willing leaders begin to develop a love for the lower-deck and its people, and the lower-deck people flock towards love.
Now those still on the upper-deck will watch closely to what is happening on their lower-deck. They don’t mind having the lower-deck people on their ship as long as they stay put, remain silent and don’t grow too large or powerful.
But what happens when the lower-deck begins creeping up into the upper-deck (not staying put)?
What happens when the lower-deck gets too loud and vocal?
What happens when the lower-deck becomes too rowdy, unconventional and unorthodox?
What happens when the people on the lower-deck, because of their magnetism towards love, begin to grow larger than the upper-deck?
What happens when power and influence begins to shift from the upper-deck to those in the lower-deck?
What happens when the lower-deck’s ministry is more “successful” then the upper-deck’s?
What happens? . . . Typically the upper-deck removes money, resources, leadership and support from the lower-deck. If the lower-deck ministry is not outright killed by the upper-deck, it slowly dies from malnourishment in a siege-like approach.
And the lower-deck people scatter back into the margins of society where they “belong”. And Jesus calls them blessed.
And the upper-deck people resume upper-deck church as usual, enjoying their sanitized upper-deck environment. And Jesus says, “Woe to you…”
But just as there are some churches who operate in this “deck” mentality, there are others who don’t recognize decks at all. They simply see people whom God loves and are thrilled when the rough-and-tumble mix it up with the refined-and-polished. They literally live by Paul’s words:
“Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, male and female, mean nothing.”