Chapter 5 - Come as You Are: Creating a Culture of Acceptance
If you saw a Rembrandt covered in mud, you wouldn't focus on the mud or treat it like mud. Your primary concern would not be the mud at all - though it would need to be removed. You'd be ecstatic to have something so valuable in your care. But if you tried to clean it up by yourself, you might damage it. So you would carefully bring this work of art to a master who could guide you and help you restore it to the condition originally intended. When people begin treating one another as God's masterpieces waiting to be revealed, God's grace grows in their lives and cleanses them.
Can your church or small group welcome a gay couple or a radical feminist or an atheist or a homeless crack-addict with open arms? Stop and picture it for yourself. Can you? When you consider these people entering your group, what are the first thoughts that come to mind? Thoughts that focus on what you think needs to change? Or thoughts that focus on their worth as people? Do you see the mud or the masterpiece?
Until we believe God is truly for us, not against us, we will keep running and hiding (Christians included!). For this reason grace forms the foundation for all significant spiritual growth. A come-as-you-are culture brings this grace to life, so that people can truly become all God intended them to be.
Gordon MacDonald said it well, "The world can do almost anything as well as or better than the church. You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or heal the sick. There is only one thing the world cannot do (or any other religion for that matter). It cannot offer grace.
But if you interview people on the street, few, if any, associate Christianity or the church with anything closely resembling grace.... though the world cannot offer grace, in its absence, it found an inexpensive substitute: tolerance.
The very idea of toleration implies enduring or putting up with some thing you don't like or value... Tolerance might deal with differences, but it can't embrace us in full knowledge of sin and remove our guilt.
From Gateways weekly program:
Come as you are.
You don't have to dress up. You don't have to be any particular age. We couldn't care less who you voted for in the last election. And please, don't feel the need to pretend about anything. Gateway Community Church is a place where God meets seeking people who are far from perfect. That means anyone is welcome, no matter where you are on your spiritual journey. So learn at your own pace. Ask questions. Seek. We believe you'll find what you're looking for. You'll learn how to relate to God. You'll experience Christian community. And here's the big thing - you will change. Join us as we seek God together. Just come as you are.
Many people can't believe God will accept them and love them until those who claim to know God start to show them.
Instead of acceptance that draws them into relationship and says, "I'm for you," seekers pick up an "us verse them" mentality from many Christians. It is subtle but deadly.
Isn't this why Jesus taught in so many parables? he knew just talking about God's grace and acceptance was not enough, he had to paint graphic pictures to illustrate it.
At Gateway, we teach our leaders and congregation to give up trying to fix people - it's not our job - that's God's job.
Sometimes the very fact that our band would play a song that seekers are familiar with communicates acceptance in a roundabout way.... We utilize the words of modern poets in today's culture, just like Paul did in Acts 17 to communicate the message to a Greek culture.
The question we ask in counseling is, "Which way forward from here? In other words, which way is this person moving - closer to God 0r farther away - and how can we best help them move forward?