While Jesus was having dinner at Levi's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the "sinners" and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: "Why does he eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?"
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
(Mark 2:5-17 NIV)

As Susan and I made our way toward seats in the vast auditorium of the mega-church hosting the conference we recently attended, I took in the scene around me. Contemporary Christian music boomed from a state of the art sound system as classy, creative videos flashed on huge screens. Most of the five thousand seats were already filled with leaders from churches across the country.

Settling into our comfortable balcony seats (think stadium seating), I marveled at the technology, architecture and significant slice of evangelical leadership on display in this vast room. The lights dimmed to signal the beginning of the next keynote session, introduced by a seamless transition to a pounding set of praise songs led by a bevy of talented musicians. This was not my grandmother’s church.

Stepping onto the stage as the praise set concluded, the keynote speaker ... the senior pastor of a mammoth mega-church ... moved into two circles of bright light created by follow spotlights, his image projected on screens flanking the stage. Flashing a smile backed by a set of brilliant white teeth (they almost appeared to be glowing on the huge screens), the speaker opened with a few humorous comments about his family. I joined the crowd in chuckling about the antics of the speaker’s wife and children, while noticing that the man seated in front of us was busily typing every word being uttered into his lap top.

Segueing masterfully to his message, the keynoter indicated that he intended to share wisdom drawn from many years of successful ministry. I sensed the mass of assembled church-going humanity leaning forward in anticipation of the words about to be spoken. The fellow with the lap top typed frenetically.

And this is what was spoken: "If we could just find a way to get rid of the kooks in the church, things would be a lot better." This was the promised wisdom drawn from years of ministry experience. I couldn’t believe my ears! He had to be joking, but this was no joke ... he was serious! Turning to Susan, I mouthed, "Did we just hear what I think we heard?" She nodded ... lap top guy just kept typing.

Improve your church by getting rid of the kooks! I could tell by the way Susan looked at me that she knew I’d be one of the first to go.

Who decides who the kooks are?
Suddenly, I felt very out of place at this conference. The keynote speaker continued to share wisdom drawn from his years of experience ... but reverberating in my ears was, "Get rid of the kooks!"

Who decides who the kooks are? Have some of us who call ourselves Christ-followers become so desirous of sanitized, polished, efficient church that we want to boot out the people that Jesus loves the most?!

My brain was pounding ... we’re all kooks. The church family that I’m part of and love deeply is full of kooks. Jesus called as his first disciples a ragged assemblage of kooks. Jesus hung out with kooks. He sought out kooks. Jesus died for kooks.

The keynoter was still going strong (and lap top guy was still typing) as Susan and I slipped out of the auditorium. We walked without speaking to our car. As I slid behind the wheel, I turned to Susan and said, "I should have stood up in there and said, 'We’ll take all of your kooks at my church!’" Gripping the steering wheel, I felt anger and frustration wash over me ... and then God gave me something to laugh about: that senior pastor who wanted to get rid of the kooks was a kook! He just didn’t see it.

As Susan and I drove out of the parking lot of that mega-church, I thanked our good and gracious God for the mercy He shows to all of us kooks. And I prayed, "Lord, bring us more kooks."