This question is often one of the biggest concerns that stops us from joining a new group. What if people don’t talk to me? What if they do talk to me but start to find out things about my life that they don’t like and then shun me?
In it’s starkest form it was asked of me once by a Muslim lady who received one of our church service invitations in the street. “Would I be allowed to come into a church building? I’ve been told at an other church that I could not come in because I belong to a different faith.”
Our aim at Bearwood Chapel is to try and help people feel welcome at all of our gatherings. One of the good things about the church family is that we come from a wide variety of backgrounds, Different ages, families and singles, different social backgrounds, a range of languages all contribute to the mix.
But also there’s sometimes a deeper question. It runs along these lines “I know you will try to welcome me but will I really be accepted. You may smile and say the right things but the secret message is that I’ve really got to change to fit in.” If these concerns are yours then this post is for you.
You are welcome because we are all in the same boat
Church is not for people who have got everything all sorted out. Nor is it a place where the “sorted” people sort out the messy people. The Bible talks about grace which means that God chooses to love us and welcome us even though none of us deserve his love. So it is not for members of the church to decide whether or not you fit in and meet their standard. We will not be trying to change you. We cannot change ourselves.
But that does not mean that change won’t or should not happen. In fact, it is the very fact that Jesus offers change that draws us. Sometimes we say that acceptance means welcoming and loving someone without expecting them to change. However, when we see someone whose life I in danger or in a mess then we want them to change exactly because we love, accept and welcome them.
You are welcome because the Christian message is not about condemnation
One of the early church leaders wrote “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). He goes on to ask the question! Who can condemn you?” and points out that the only one who is entitled to condemn is God and he chooses not to condemn but to love, forgive and save.
Does this mean that there are no boundaries? No. Love provides boundaries because they provide safety and protection. So, when we come to the Bible, there are things we are told not to do and we are warned about the consequences. But it also means that when we teach about what the Bible says we should and shouldn’t do that the teaching should come without a wagging finger. It also means that no matter how often any of us mess up, let each other down, fail etc that there will always be forgiveness.
We also need to honestly recognise that this does not mean that there never will be judgement. In fact, the bible is very clear that a day is coming when Jesus will judge everyone who has ever lived. If we have put our trust in him then we stand forgiven but if we choose to reject him through life then this continues into eternity so that we will face the penalty of our sin by ourselves.
Now I can’t promise all of us will always get it right. However, we hope that as you come along you’ll recognise a genuine love and concern for you that results in authentic acceptance. We cannot change you and we will not try. Rather, we believe that God offers change and that this change is genuine good news for all of us. So we will help each other to find out what God’s Word says about how we should change.
If you come along and after giving time to investigate the truth claims of the bible you decide that you believe it and trust God then it may be that you will want to commit to being other Christians as we seek to listen to God’s word together. This is really what church membership is all about. It means that we commit to take the Bible seriously, to watch out for each other and to serve one another.
In the meantime, you may simply be checking things out and want to come along to listen, ask questions, give opinions. If that’s you then you are welcome and accepted for as long as you want to be part of the conversation.
Engage: Sundays at 5pm
Starts November 8th 2015
Bearwood Chapel, 445 Bearwood road, Smethwick B66 4DH
(opposite Bearwood Primary School)