I used to go to a church where everyone had to fit in.
Everyone had to believe the same things.
If they didn’t, they were treated with suspicion and kept at arms’ length – and they certainly wouldn’t be allowed to be ‘in ministry’; that is, serving in a public role such as teaching, housegroup leading or worship leading. Only those who were fully kosher in terms of their beliefs were fully trusted. This was not done overtly, but I believe it was almost subconscious on the part of the leadership. And I imagine people knew what was going on (although as an Aspie (undiagnosed at the time) I didn’t really have a clue).
My friend at that church referred to that sort of thing as the ‘FIFO’ church – Fit In or Go Away. Yes, that’s a euphemism; deal with it 😀 * (And it has nothing to do with ‘First In, First Out’!)
And at the time, I was so blinkered that I didn’t realise it, or, if I did, I was one of those who approved of the attitude – because I did fit in, or at least I thought I did (cynically, I now believe that my ‘differences’ were tolerated because of my worship leading and musical gifts). I thought that this was the norm. In fact, I didn’t think about it much at all.
But just lately, I have got to thinking in more depth on this subject. There’s no way God made all these different people, just for them to be all the same. We are all going to have different attitudes, different beliefs, different backgrounds, talents, hang-ups, habits, situations, circumstances and what have you.
Now, if we can’t accept people who are voluntarily and regularly in the congregation – people who profess and enact belief in Jesus Christ – who show ‘differences’, then how are we ever going to bring others into the Church? People with far, far more jarring, offensive and sometimes downright disturbing tendencies? We simply will not be able to cope, and people will not come because they (either tacitly or overtly) won’t be welcome, plain and simple. This is not rocket science!
I know that all faiths and people in general have a natural tendency to gravitate towards people of like beliefs/interests/whatever, and to distance themselves from those who are different. I appreciate that. But the Church – the Body of Christ – as Jesus’s representatives here on earth, we should be different. Jesus said that people would be able to tell who are His disciples because of the love we have for one another (Jn 13:35). And I also believe that He meant, not just people in the Church (even the ‘tax collectors’ do that! (Mt 5:46; Lk 6:32)), but also those outside it.
And this is one reason why I like my church so much. It’s an inner-city church where we get all sorts of real people in. People who smoke, people who are addicts, people who are recovering, people who have never had a problem like that, the homeless and those who live in modest accommodation, right up to those who live in dead posh places. Everyone is different and nobody is expected to conform at all. I mean, sure, there’s the odd Fundie there who finds it hard to keep his trap shut, but again, it takes all sorts. We dwell together in harmony, regardless of differences, and there the Lord commands the blessing (Ps 133:1,3 KJV).
I’m not saying everyone has to minister to the homeless and the poor. What I am saying is that we should at least learn to minister to those who are in our own congregations, despite their differences – whether differences in sexuality, belief, status, age, or whatever.
Interestingly, the whole idea of ‘equal opportunities’ for everyone, as depicted in UK law, comes from the basic human need to be treated fairly and not discriminated against. Now, granted, it’s not perfect, but it’s a step on the path. If the world can do this, then how much more so the Church, in which there is supposed to be “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ” (Gal 3:28)? What the Life of Jesus does in this case is to remove the barriers between people and help them relate to one another as Family. In some places, yes, this is a dysfunctional family – but with a little effort and application, it’s possible to turn this around. How? As always, start with yourself. Determine to treat others with respect and love; do not judge or condemn others for what they do, say, what they are or what they eat.
Do this not as a set of Rules, but let it flow naturally from your life in the Spirit. Determine to be Jesus to those around you. Make everyone properly welcome, not as ‘evangelistic targets’, but merely and simply as people. Imagine how you would feel if (whatever), and run with that. As an Aspergic person, this is something I have had to train myself in; for those to whom it comes naturally, go ahead and use your abilities in the Spirit!
And it will happen. And the church will no longer be ‘FIFO’
*If you are offended by ‘cuss words’, then please let me apologise for the offence but also may I suggest you get a sense of perspective. In any event, I needed to include the euphemisms because they are part of the impact of the piece.