A friend who knows that I’m currently on the edge of a local church invited me to visit recently. We sat and talked for a while over an excellent cup of coffee. Then the question came…
“We just wondered how you might feel about planting a new church in this area?”
Mmmm…well, I’ve church planted before, so I know how. At the moment, however, I’ve no sense that that might be the right thing for me to do, even if I wanted to.
But…it did get me thinking…in an ideal world, what would my ideal local church look like? I have a dream…
It would be a community (deliberate choice of word) where people could journey together, worship, learn, share and support one another without any reference to who they are or where they’ve come from or how well they fit in, with an emphasis on belonging long before issues of believing or behaving in particular ways kicks in. A community where the love and grace that God has shown to each individual would be shared with everyone else, where each individual knows that they’re loved, accepted and supported not just by God, but by a group of equally flawed humans as well.
I think it would be fair to say that, with 2½ exceptions this has not been my general experience of church.
That’s not suggesting that these 2½ were perfect…things often went wrong, but there was in each a sense of common purpose and a will to sort things out inclusively, rather than drawing lines and erecting barriers. Nor is it suggesting that the other churches of which I have been part lacked at least a small group of people who lived and behaved like that (and generally they were marginalised for this).
Many churches have a real problem welcoming those who are different…the alien and the stranger…more of this in a later post.
I have been confronted by three major attitudes, as an outsider, coming into a new church (this probably applies to the joining of any organisation or group, as much as to the church, but it’s sad that church struggles with this too). This is the ‘welcome if…of this articles title:
- We welcome you…because you’re like us.
- We welcome you…because you’re prepared to change to be like us.
- We welcome you…because although you’re different, and not prepared to become like us, you keep your mouth shut and don’t rock the boat. (this is my worst case scenario, because here the silent (often) majority watch in cowardly passivity as the full weight of oppressive disapproval is heaped onto anyone who dares to have the courage to be openly different)
Of course, all this leads to a very obvious case of homogeneity, which I would argue is not good for a church that genuinely wants to grow and to resemble Jesus, who was very good at welcoming the stranger and knows what it is to suffer the ire of people who want to keep things neat, tidy and homogenised…this too is fuel for a later post.