Pretty cool. You are in a safari park and a young male lion walks right up to your car. Once in a lifetime event that you'll tell your friends about for years, right? Getting that close to a top predator is awesome. Something to tell the grandkids.
But sometimes, close is too close. :)
When you come to New Hope, you step into an extended family. You are known - over time - in a way and to a depth that may be uncomfortable to some. Having attended a mega-church years ago and knowing friends who still work in them, I know their constant focus is not just growing bigger, but also growing smaller through small groups. Still, those small groups are optional. You can still walk in and out of worship every week and not make those connections should you choose not to.
Not really an option at New Hope. And that can be off putting. I've seen that kind of reaction a few times here. In teenagers who are blown away that their teachers and yes, even their pastor will speak up when they see their actions in public aren't matching what they are professing at church. In adults who bolt when people start to get too close to who they really are - not their carefully crafted "church persona." There's close, and there's too close for comfort.
With youth, if you have 20-50-100 kids, it's easy to escape the attention of your youth leaders. Just keeping the organization on track takes a lot of time, and many weeks it's a win just to finish an event with the same number of kids you started with. Spending time on Facebook, or MySpace (remember that place?) and calling each other out often doesn't happen. Showing up at band concerts, school plays and the like might not either. Even if it does, when there's 12 kids you showed up to watch it's a bit different than a couple of people yelling out one kid's name and "Woo Woo!" (Not saying that actually happened... well... okay... it did :))
With adults, as the level of intimacy gets deeper and the circle of influence widens it can really get difficult to maintain the separation they need to remain unchanged and unaffected. To drop years of walls you've constructed is hard. You can evade for a while, pull back into your own family, and try not to respond to the call of the Holy Spirit to just be who you really are around your brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet you are missing God's best in exchange for an extended but fleeting period of comfortable status quo life.
The "too close for comfort" deal... Is following Jesus in community supposed to be comfortable?
Is being conformed by that community into the image of Jesus Christ supposed to be pain free?
Not in my book.
And not in this one either.