As I am a pastor, I am very interested in having people in church. But it is not only “in church” that I want them. I want all people to have a relationship with God that is such an integral part of their life that they cannot imagine not coming to church. So, I started asking myself and others why church attendance is not important. Please note that some of those questioned were members in a church, and some not members. Not all answers given are by members of any particular church.
Some of the answers were along the lines of, “I am busy”, “I have other things to do”, or “Sunday is the only day I have with my family”. And I totally understand these reasons. I too am busy. I definitely have other things to do, and Sunday is a good day to spend with family. But those reasons do not keep one out of church on Sunday.
So I dug a little deeper. I asked why church is not integral in their lives. Sometimes I was told that church was integral to their lives, but they didn’t know how to fit it in. But most often, the answers went along the lines of church is just one more thing to add to the schedule, or I don’t come to church because I don’t want to be judged.That last answer bothered me more than anything. “I don’t come to church because I don’t want to be judged.”
Philip Yancey in his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace? shared a story about a prostitute in Chicago who asked for help. The woman had been renting her daughter out to make money to support her drug habit. The idea of going to a church for help was brought up. Her response was, “‘Church!’ she cried. ‘Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse.’”
Is that where the church is today? A group of people who make others feel bad about their lives? Because if that is where the church is, it is no wonder that people do not want to come. I have been a pastor for almost 25 years. I have been involved in the church my whole life, as my father was a pastor also. I have felt love, acceptance, and joy in my church experiences; even during those awkward teen-age years. This acceptance, the grace that was shared with me, it was those things that conveyed me into seminary, through seminary, and then on into the ministry. Those gifts that were showered upon me allowed me to become gracious and accepting in my own life.
But that is only my background. How many people have experienced the opposite of love, grace, and acceptance in the church? How many people have stood on the outside of cliques and wondered where their place was at the table? How many people has the church excluded by being judgmental about clothes, hairstyles, monetary wealth, health, gender, or living situation? I would love to hear your thoughts, ideas, or stories that go along with the theme of acceptance or inclusion.