In my job as a grocery cashier I’ve gotten to know many of my customers very well. It’s amazing how much can be exchanged in the few minutes it takes to process a week’s worth of groceries.
Most of my regular customers see me as the guy who is always friendly and positive. Last night I was described as the “Happy Man.” That’s all well and good.
Most also know of the source of my “positiveness,” my faith in Jesus. That’s even better!
So, what’s this got to do with the church culture of closure and discouragement?
A couple of nights ago a customer shared with me that she and her husband had stopped attending church a few years back. When I asked why, her response was:
“Well, our preacher was very good. His message stayed with the Bible. We really liked that.
But he started making people feel very uncomfortable because of how they dressed.
Now I always try to dress nicely for church. I’m not into jeans and shorts for worship. But… well… he just drove people away who needed to be there… even me.”
I don’t know this pastor. I can’t imagine that he was actually trying to exclude or drive people from his congregation. But he was very effective at doing so. this once vibrant small church is now struggling to survive.
I suspect that the underlying feelings of members of this congregation (actual or prospective) sensed something much deeper… requirement for “membership” becoming something other than God intended. All too common.
Jesus chided the Sanhedrin, particularly the Pharisees, because they emphasized the letter of the Law above its purpose. Jesus also accepted people as they were (are) in order to bring them His message of hope and love.
It’s amazing how seemingly little things can drive people away from the message of Jesus Christ. You can see this in the simple example above.
On a broader scale, as a community, many of us Christians do the same thing. Whether it be bickering among ourselves about denominational differences or in effect “crossing to the other side of the street” to avoid those in need, we are doing the same thing.
Let us instead be a culture of welcome and invitation… carrying out the Great Commission.
I have invited the friend to come with me back into the universal church. I pray that she will.