May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 1 Thessalonians 3:12 (NIV)
As much as we like to say everyone is welcome in the church, our practice is sometimes out of step with our words.
It was a cool November evening in downtown Vancouver and I was sitting in the foyer of the First Baptist Church on Burrard Street waiting to meet with a friend for a dinner date when an unfortunate event unfolded before my eyes. Two men, obviously recent immigrants from Eastern Europe, walked into the church and sat down on one of the wooden pews at the back of the church. Sitting, that’s all they were doing, sitting quietly.
But their reverie was soon interrupted. An officious looking woman bustled over and said, “You can’t be here. You have to be registered. Only people attending the conference can be in here. You’ve got to leave.” Both men looked at each other, incredulous, then looked back at the woman as she put her hands on her hips, notched her voice up an octave, and said, “Look, you’ve got to leave!” Neither man said anything, but reluctantly, and with shoulders slouched in resignation, they made their way out into the cold night air.
I was devastated. I can’t begin to describe the pain in my heart. Here I was attending a conference on church planting, and the very people we needed to be reaching were being chased out of the building.
Sadly, the church can be like that. The lost aren’t always welcome. We say they are, but when they don’t fit in with what we’re doing or with who we think should be there, one way or another, we turn them away. We’re not usually as blunt as the organiser from the Church Planters Conference. We’re usually more subtle. Innuendo, body language, disparaging glances, and exclusive rites all serve to keep the out group from getting in.
Lord forgive us. We should know better. What matters most to You, people, is what should matter most to us. In Your Book the lost are always welcome. Help us roll out the red carpet to the least, the lonely, and the lost.
When I returned to the church that evening we had a time of singing and dancing second to none. What a party! In fact when the speaker took the podium he said, “Wouldn’t it be great if the people out there knew what a good time we’re having in here?” “Yes, wouldn’t it!” I thought . . .