Years ago, I visited a young man who lived in a home called a halfway house. I’m guessing most of you are at least vaguely familiar with these sorts of places. According to Wikipedia, “A halfway house is a place that allows people with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities to learn the social and other skills necessary to integrate or reintegrate into society.”
Its purpose is to help people complete the journey from wherever they were (incarcerated, emotionally unstable, drug addicted, etc.) to a firmer place in society. This, of course, is a noble and worthwhile venture if handled properly. People who stop at one of these for a season are halfway between who they were and who they wish to become.
With that definition in mind, it seems to me that the church should be somewhat of a halfway community. She is that, at her best. In fact, many congregations have established halfway houses in order to better minister to halfway people.
Unfortunately, that definition often doesn’t apply to many of our local congregations. Much of the time, we are more apt to say (whether out loud or under our collective breaths), “These people need to go somewhere else until they get help.” This, of course, is an impolite way of saying, “They’re not going to get any help from us.”
“We have been conditioned…”
In defense of congregations with this mindset, these thoughts come naturally. We have been taught by our culture and society that one needs special training for such things. We have also been conditioned to think that “these people” are not our problems. By adopting such attitudes, we shrink from becoming halfway communities.
The term also has a broader meaning (as in, “doing things halfway”). It often applies to congregations, not only in the circumstances discussed above but in many other circumstances as well. We often do things halfway or in haphazard manners. In other words, we do what we have to do to get by. My Dad used to call that, “getting through by the skin of your teeth.”
My Dad also would describe this condition with another idiom (widely used) that I will not quote here (for reasons of gentility). It began with the word, half, but ended with a somewhat crude term that referred to a posterior part of the human anatomy. This word is also commonly found in the King James Version of the Bible. It is the forerunner of another (more modern) word now used as the symbol of one of our major political parties (hint—not an elephant).
“It’s like fighting a war without the slightest intention of winning it.”
This halfway condition is not an enviable one. It’s like fighting a war without the slightest intention of winning it. It’s like teaching a class without caring if the students actually learn anything.
In short, today’s church often does things in a halfway manner. We do things just to say we do them. Why don’t we try this? Instead of doing lots of things in a halfway manner, let’s do less, but do them right.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]