Be the Church: Make Room for Everyone
Yesterday, I wrote about how being the church means that we go to the broken. Today, I'm going to write about the importance of making room for everyone. What do I mean by that? Just outside the doors of our churches are communities of hurting people that have tried church before and have given up. They felt like there was no room in our assemblies for someone who didn't talk like us, dress like us, look like us, or think like us. This is never our intention, but I understand at least in part why this happens. The church has a reputation for being uppity and up-tight. People on the outside get the impression that we can't handle their tattoos, their piercings, their dirty mouths, their questions and their muddy pasts. They don't have everything all figured out. Do any of us? They want the space to learn about God in an environment where they feel like they belong and are accepted for who they are.
I think it's helpful for us to remember that our own relationship with Jesus has always been a process. When we stop to think about our own journey with Christ, most of us can say that it took us a while to really get it. It took us a while to get rid of the junk and to stop some of the destructive habits in our own lives. So we need to be more understanding when people come in unpolished and unrefined. We need to encourage others through the process, giving them the tools, encouragement and support that will help further them along in their understanding of God and who He has called them to be in Him.
We need to broaden our idea of what being the church looks like. We need to encourage individuality and not squash it. The brilliance of being part of the Body of Christ is that we all play a different role. We all have a different function. When we shine in who God has created us to be and encourage others in their own uniqueness, we will be able to reach more people with God's love. We should be able to express God's love through different styles, different artistic forms, different styles of music, and with language that is appropriate for reaching different types of people. The message of salvation doesn't change, but we cannot be so rigid as to how we choose to express or share that message. If we aren't willing to ever change up our approach, we will lose some of our effectiveness.
The thing I love about the early church is that the forerunners of Christianity were the most unlikely candidates. Paul was an ex-murderer. Before He had his own encounter with Jesus, He was murdering Christians with zeal and enthusiasm. When Jesus was arrested, Peter denied that He even knew Him. He turned His back on Jesus in the moment that it counted the most. Matthew was a tax-collector by profession, earning a living by taking money from the innocent. I love this. God doesn't disqualify anyone. He loves using the most unlikely people to do the biggest things for Him. What if we adopted the same mindset? What if we tapped into the heart of God, seeing the most messed up people as capable of being some of the greatest conduits of God's love, mercy and strength?
As the first disciples sought to be the church, they made room for everyone. They made room for the Jew, for the Gentile and even for the Samaritans (Acts 8:14). The Samaritans were equivalent to today's outcasts. The Samaritans and the Jews had a long standing hatred for one another. Samaritans were viewed by the Jews as being worthless, as if they were nothing more than junk worthy of being tossed to the side of the road. Yet they were not excluded from being a part of the first church. There was room even for them.
Paul preached the Gospel to people that served other Gods. But He met the people where they were at and explained the Gospel to them in terms they would be able to understand. I love how He delivers the Gospel while He is an Athens, to a people that served many gods, "People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: To An Unknown God. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship-and this is what I am going to proclaim to you" (Acts 17:22-23). He used their own altar as a connecting point to reach them with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The thing I love most about the early church is that the Gospel wasn't seen as being equal to tradition. They stood boldly on the truth of God, preaching the Gospel uncompromisingly and boldly. However, they didn't require people to take on their extra traditions to accept the message. When some Jews in the church were getting all bent out of shape and telling Gentile believers that they needed to be circumcised to be Christian, Peter says "Why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?" (Acts 15:10). Or in other words, why do you put stipulations on people that make it hard for them to enter relationship with God, but have so little to do with true holiness? As we strive to be the church, we must use the Bible as a standard of conduct and behavior, by which we measure true holiness. Which of our standards and stipulations are Biblical and which are mere preferences and man-made tradition? As we strive to be a family we must filter out the essentials from the non-essentials and allow room for freedom of expression and individuality.
I love how Jonathan Keck phrases it in his article, "How to Break the Cookie-Cutter, Carbon Copy Christian Cycle." He writes, "There is only one to whom we should conform our lives, minds, behaviors, and desires-Jesus Christ. Be Christ-like as you live out who God made you to be." Let's make room for people to do this in the church.