Some have suggested our churches should be “no-shame” zones where people are accepted and loved, regardless of their past. While there is truth to this statement, there is also a warning. Churches, of all places in society, should be cities of refuge where the hurting can find help, prayer, and support. This does not mean the truth of the gospel should be watered down or compromised to accommodate sinful lifestyles. It does mean that believers recognize what it means to be another sinner in search of the grace of God.
Paul admonished the believers at Rome to “…accept one another, just as Christ also accepted you, to the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7 CSB). He realized the church would be full of people from every background, nation, language, and culture. The prejudices that brought suspicion and mistrust into society must be discarded at the door of Christ’s church. Inside, the love and acceptance of Christians should permeate an atmosphere of redemption and restoration.
It reminded me of a blog post by Thom Rainer in March of 2015 entitled, “Nine Traits of Mean Churches.” Check out the full article at thomrainer.com, but here are the highlights. “Mean” churches:
Make decisions in the cloak of darkness
Treat pastors and staff poorly
Are run by “power groups”
Look at people outside the church as “them” or “those people”
Are focused inward on the preferences of members
Are viewed negatively by the surrounding communities
I began to think about what it must be like to stumble into one of these churches for worship. Whereas the initial welcome might be cordial, but one would soon begin to sense the wall of separation between insiders and outsiders. Power struggles then raise they ugly heads in church, and the first shots fired are usually aimed at someone’s past.
The churches represented by this group became unbearable for some who have left church life altogether. One member wrote, “The non-Christians I associate with are much nicer than the members of my church.” So, how can we inoculate our churches against this “meanness?” I believe it comes from practicing the “one another” commands of scripture:
Pray for one another (James 5:16)
Forgive one another (Colossians 3:13)
Encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
Love one another (John 13:34-35)
Accept one another (Romans 15:7)
Find all the other “one another” commands in the Bible and begin to practice them as a church family. When we do, our church will exude the love of Christ to all who enter. A church where love and forgiveness is found is the best incubator for new believers.