This “come as you are” principle that is a common mantra in many Churches is often nothing but empty words. How welcoming is your place of worship? Be honest now! There is this clip that was doing the rounds in social media recently where the Senior Pastor of a Church disguised himself as a homeless beggar and entered the sanctuary. You may have seen how many people tried to stop him from even accessing the Church building, not to mention the accusatory looks he received from congregants. To make the matter worse he proceeded to attempt a move towards the pulpit – there was a literal battle as ushers, security, maybe elders and I guess other “keepers of God’s house” attempted to stop him. You can imagine the shock when the Senior Pastor dropped the guise and revealed himself to the Church. The gasps from the congregants still ring loud in my mind.
This scenario plays out more often than we may want to believe in many of our places of worship. We have created a “type” of worshiper who will have access to our Churches practically redefining what it takes to enter the Kingdom. There are people we believe are an embarrassment to the body of Christ because they are thieves, murderers, cheats, prostitutes (unclean in short) – they just don’t represent the image we have painted of the followers of Christ. Don’t misunderstand me please. I am not asking that these Christ followers should be leading the Church but what about being congregants? We wish they could sort out their issues then come to Church, like attend a kind of “finishing school” before being admitted into the Kingdom. On reflection I look back at where I started in my journey of faith – why was I even welcomed to a Church? Did I wear my guise so well that I looked like an insider? What about today, what guises could we be wearing that only come off when a scandal breaks and causes gasps amongst the congregation? The Pastor stole money from the building fund? Gasp! The worship leader is pregnant and is still single? What! The elder has a side chick? How now!
Isn’t the Church the finishing school? Let me put this differently; is your Church a finishing school or it only admits the “complete” – the Christian who “appears” ready to storm the gates of heaven? Where do we expect the prostitute to be mentored and coached in the ways of Jesus? In their house? Where will the drug addict and the alcoholic learn that there is a way out of the addiction? That the addiction is only a guise really and the real issue is a broken marriage or the abuse they suffered as a child from a close family member? Yes, reflect on that and answer the question; Where? I am currently reading a book “Building a Discipling culture” by Mike Breen and Steve Cockram as part of a leadership development program at the Fearless Institute. I am barely done with the first pages, the introduction but the term “Discipling” caught my attention and I recalled an analogy the Holy Spirit whispered to me some years back. It was around God’s “come as you are” plan for admitting mankind to the Kingdom.
As a Christian, I know I am a child of God. That’s a fundamental truth we learn at the finishing school (in Church) and if you are still struggling with this truth, I invite you to join us this coming Sunday or write to me! Anyway, picture a parent, maybe a mother coming home from work and their little child sees them and starts crying. Imagine with me that the child is less than 2 years old, just learnt to walk, still suckling, has no real language to express their needs apart from “wailing”, messy as can be after playing in the compound. Do you think the mother tells the child not to touch her, asks the Nanny to first wash the child and dress him up in clean clothes before picking him up? We would all call that poor parenting. More often than not the mother will scoop the child up and embrace him, ignore the crisp suit and nurse their child. After all the suit can be cleaned up, right? If you still have doubts now imagine that as the mother approaches the house, she sees her child crying, messy as can be and limping towards her signalling that the child is injured. If you are the mother what would you do?
The actions of the mother are representative of what the Church ought to be like for people. A refuge for the weak, lost and hurting – aren’t we all in one way or another? The Church is a finishing school really, a place to disciple new and old Christians in the ways of Christ. Even the so called Senior Pastor, Overseer or Bishop is still in finishing school. We could be in different classes but the graduation ceremony will only take place in heaven. We are imperfect people living in a broken world and are in need of one type of healing or another – mental, physical, emotional, spiritual. Church is meant to play its part as the representative of Christ but often opts to craft membership rules that keep many out effectively creating private Member’s Clubs. I presume you are familiar with the game of Snakes and Ladders. Irrespective of the level one is at in this game, a snake can swallow someone and spit them out at the very bottom of the scale or a few rungs down. That is what the finishing school and effective discipleship teaches us – the snakes to avoid and the ladders to climb. Do you attend a Club or a Church on Sundays? Shalom!