Imagine with me a congregation of people sitting Sunday morning on the edge of their seats excitedly awaiting the arrival of someone new coming to their church. A congregation who should no one come are left feeling the disappointment of missing an opportunity to love. How incredible would that be?
Recently I had the question posed to me: What do people need to feel when they walk through the doors of your church? The answer seemed simple, and so I rather casually replied "Acceptance".
Little did that I know that would expand into a much larger conversation and I would be pressed to consider what that actually means. What is acceptance and what does the implementation of practicing it look like? I have sat with the idea for a few days to consider what I really believe acceptance is and this is where I have landed.
Acceptance is not simply a well practiced or obligatory response to someone showing up on Sunday, no matter how kindhearted. Acceptance rather, is loving people long before they ever cross the threshold while fervently anticipating their arrival. Being inviting or welcoming might say "Of course you are welcome here.", while acceptance says "We have been waiting and hoping you would come!"
Acceptance is not simply receiving people but wanting them.
As a church we extend so much time and energy inviting people into God's house, but somehow seem uncertain what to do when they show up. Instead of wondering, should we not be desiring people from all walks of life to enter through our doors so that we can generously extend love, perhaps for the first time, into their lives? Rather than asking "What will we do with the broken and the messy when they come to our church?" imagine if we instead petitioned God "Please send the broken, the messy and the lost through our doors so that we might lavish them with the love we already have stored up for them"?
After all, is that not what God does for us? He eagerly awaits us to open the door to Him, to answer His call, so He can generously lavish love on us and offer us His salvation?
We can learn the specific behaviours and actions that reflect acceptance, but ultimately what I believe is that it is a commitment of attitude that needs to be deeply rooted in our very being. Acceptance should begin with us being compelled, individually and corporately, to wait in expectancy of loving the next person who comes in - regardless of who they are - even before they have darkened the doors. I dream of the church becoming a place where acceptance is loving people because we desperately and joyfully want to, not because we think we should or that we have to.
I wonder if we have fully considered what a privilege it is to be the people who open the doors to God's house and welcome others in. I wonder if we have lost the passion of wanting the opportunity to share with everyone what we believe, and why we believe it. I wonder if we have lost sight of the understanding that every time we see the messy, the broken and the lost - they are us - but for the Grace of God, they are us! Praise be to God, we have been rescued!
Acceptance is saying we will continue to unashamedly share the gospel, we will not become permissive in our beliefs or compromising, but we want you here. It is being generous with grace - the same grace that every single one of us sinners has had extended. Whether we agree or disagree acceptance says, you are wanted, you are worthy to be loved and and to be welcomed in this place.
Then, we leave it with God in hope that as He moves in their hearts implanting His truth into their lives and calling them to salvation, that they would respond to that call.