Come as you are.  These are words that we’ve all heard, and in truth, we’ve probably all said them at some point. One of the places that I have heard and said these words the most is in the local church. Whether it be in the context of someone asking how they should come dressed to church or in the context of what does one have to do to ask Christ for forgiveness, these words get said a lot in church. Seriously, one of the most famous hymns of the church is ‘Just As I Am.’ Those of us who have come to Christ are incredibly thankful that He accepted us as we were, but when it comes to His acceptance of others, do our actions back up our talk?

Let me preface this by saying that in no way do I believe that Jesus turns a blind eye to things that His Word teaches us are sin. What I mean here is that in order for someone to come to Jesus, they don’t have to get their life right before coming to Him.  Jesus lovingly accepts us in our current, depraved state, and then as we cultivate our relationship with Him, He shows us (often through His Word) areas of our life that don’t line up with His teachings. Rest assured, this is a life-long process for all of us, and anyone that tells you that they aren’t course correcting something in their life is most likely lying to you.

Somewhere along the line, the church has cultivated a culture that can be very intimidating and even hostile to the unbeliever that walks in the door for the first time.  This can reveal itself in many forms. Strange looks, not-so-subtle whispers, and condescending words have driven many people who were seeking help in life away from the church and even more tragically away from Jesus.

What I will never understand is how Christians, who are supposed to be patterning their lives after Jesus, treat people so poorly because of their appearance, social status, or some degree of sin that they are struggling with.  All throughout the gospels, we see Jesus spending the bulk of His time, not with the religious leaders, but with the outcasts of society. Something doesn’t add up.

Unfortunately, in my experiences, it seems that a couple of different things have happened.  First, for many, church has become nothing more than a social club.  For those in this category, when someone that is different than the rest of the group shows up, everyone gets uncomfortable.  This typically leads to a cold reception for the newcomer.

The other thing that has happened is this. People put on their church masks. What do I mean by this? People come to church and essentially play a game of charades.  Life is good. Family is great. There are no problems or concerned to be mentioned.  In places where these masks are commonly worn, it becomes incredibly difficult for a non-believer to walk through the doors, and openly admit their need for a relationship with Christ.  I mean, who wants to be the only imperfect person in the room?

Now for the good news.

I am seeing a shift away from these trends in the church today. This is incredibly encouraging. More and more churches are welcoming guests of all races, political leanings, and socio-economic status.  This is as it should be.  Jesus spent His time on earth reaching out to people that the religious crowd looked down on and wanted no part of.  The church of His day had already written these people off, in some cases, simply because of their race, or even an illness. The thing is, that’s exactly who Jesus came here to reach.  His own words tell us that it isn’t the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick.  The church is supposed to be a hospital for those who are hurting and I am optimistic that it can get back to that.  The challenge is that we have to be willing to get out of our comfort zones to reach people that we aren’t used to reaching.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus came to this planet for the sole purpose of providing a means of salvation that would be for ALL of humanity.  If you are a Christian, it is your job to help point people to Jesus. In some instances, it may mean getting your hands dirty.  It may take you to places that you usually don’t go. It may put you around people groups that you haven’t had a lot of experience with.  Let me tell you a secret, though.  Regardless of race, creed, status, or any other classification you can come up with, people want to be loved.  People want to be respected.  People want to be heard.  Sometimes the first step to sharing the message of the cross with someone is to stop talking and listen to their story.

Maybe you’re reading this and you have been hurt by church people.  If that’s you, as a pastor, let me tell you that I am sorry.  All I can tell you is that, despite the attempted charades that can happen, every church is filled with imperfect people.  However, Jesus loves you.  He wants to welcome you into His Kingdom.  He wants you to accept His gift of salvation that cost Him everything.  You don’t have to change to come to Christ.  He does the changing work after you come to Him.  He welcomes you just as you are.

I’m proud to serve at a church that is full of people from all walks of life.  If you happen to come to our church, you will see suits, ties, blue jeans, cowboy boots, shorts, flip flops, and just about everything in between. You will see people of different ethnic backgrounds coming together to worship in unity.  I get to see it from the platform every week as I lead worship and let me tell you that it’s a beautiful sight.  If you’re in the Virginia Beach area and looking for a home church, come check us out at Kempsville Church.  If you aren’t in this area, I encourage you to find a church that preaches the Word unapologetically and welcomes you in.

Let me leave you with this incredible song from David Crowder.