In the not-too-distant past, there were a series of commercials advertising for a certain motel chain claiming, “We’ll leave the light on for you.” These commercials touted this chain’s various services and their down-to-earth atmosphere. Listening to these ads, you would get the impression that this was the motel that the Joe the Plumbers of the world would stay in. And the light is on and they are just waiting for them to arrive. Like going home.
As cliche as it sounds, this should be the attitude of the church. The light should always be on the and the doors should always be open. Going to church should be like going home. There should be joy and happiness and laughter and hugs and the weird great aunt who pulls on your cheeks and tells you how cute you are and gives you a big kiss on the forehead that leaves that red lipstick imprint. And it should be the kind of place where anyone and everyone is welcome.
Too often, this is not the case.
My wife’s grandmother tells a story about a church she attended when she was a teenager. It was of the old school Pentecostal persuasion exemplified by the phrase, “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew, and don’t go with girls that do.” The pastor had two sons. We’ll call the older Samuel and the younger Camden. Samuel was a part of the Air Force. One day, the Camden received a letter from Samuel saying that the newsman had come and made a story about them and that he was in the picture. He wanted Camden to be able to see him. The only snag in this was that this church was adamantly opposed to going to the movies, and at this time, the only place to see these news updates was to go to the movies.
Excited about the prospect of seeing his brother, and despite the church’s feelings about going to the movies, Samuel went to the local picture house one Sunday afternoon to watch the newsreel. He didn’t even stay for the picture. He watched the newsreel, saw his brother, and left. And as these stories go, someone from the church saw him and controversy ensued. In shame, the pastor was forced to resign and his family had to leave the church.
The saddest part of all of this is that it is quite possible that we have done the same thing to someone that God has placed under our spiritual care. If you could talk to everyone who had ever attended your church’s ministry functions and disappeared, what would they give as their reason for not returning?
The reality is, we cannot talk to all of them. And it is very possible indeed that our ministries have been guilty of marginalizing someone. The bigger question is: What can we do to keep this from ever happening again? What practical things can we do to open the doors a little wider and let a few more people in and make them feel welcome?
It starts with us. We need to be living lives of holiness. It needs to be apparent to all that we are doing our very best to obey God’s commands and seeking Him at all times. We have no right to begin criticizing others until we have taken time to criticize ourselves.
While seeking lives of holiness ourselves, we need to encourage holiness in the lives of those who look up to us. As the writer to the Hebrew Christians states, we need to do whatever we can to stir one another to acts of service. As we live holy, productive lives in the Lord, others will follow suit. They will join us and work alongside us in making God’s kingdom on earth a reality.
Once our churches and lives are in line with the ways of Christ, we will treat church as He would. It won’t be a fence to keep people out, but rather a way of bringing more people in. We will constantly expand our boundaries and look for God’s chosen one’s who are not yet a part of Jesus’ team. This will mean interacting with people who we may not normally interact with.
Following the way of Jesus, we will be forced to show compassion to the unwed, pregnant teenager; we will be forced to grant sanctuary to the mother and two young children who crossed the border illegally; we will be forced to embrace as “sister” the girl who can’t make heads or tails of all the myriad doctrines of Christianity but who knows Jesus is “it.”
This kind of intentional compassion, this granting of sanctuary, will look different in each one of our individual contexts, and that is the beauty of this whole Christian thing. When you have large boundaries, you automatically have diversity. And this is a good thing; a God thing, if you will.
Ultimately, this is a family thing. When Jesus said that He had other sheep that we not of His fold, He was saying that His family was something more than simply those people who shared His ancestral blood. Family, for Jesus, was everyone who honestly and eagerly sought after God. And when He found a member of His family, wherever they came from, can you imagine the reunion? The joy? The happiness? The laughter?
What about us? When a member of our “family” comes home, is it the same way? When the sun goes down, and guitar strings stop vibrating, and the doors close, what are we saying to those around us? Are we dark and foreboding and do we turn people away? Or are we a city on a hill, drawing all people toward us?
As a Church, let us seek something different, something subversive, something better than the status quo. Let us send a message to our hurting, marginalized, illegal family welcoming them home. Let us boldly proclaim, “We’ll leave the light on for you. Come on in.”