Belonging before believing

I hate Home Depot. I squirm every time I have to go there because I feel uncomfortable. I am not a handyman, and even though I do enjoy hard manual labor, I don’t have a clue about drywall, tools, paint, nails, hardware, or any of that home improvement stuff. Even if the sales person is nice I avoid them because I don’t speak the language.

I am going to be point blank honest here. If I was new to Christianity and walked into either of the last two churches I worked for I would not feel comfortable enough to want to “join the club”. Oh, I may have raised my hand near the end, filled out a salvation card because of peer pressure, I may even go down front and have an emotional release with tears running down my face. But my life would not have changed. I bet this is the case for most people although there are a small few that get “saved” and stick around a month, maybe more, which leadership uses as validation. A few people actually win the lottery every week , too.

Pastor Tommy and Matthew Barnett and all the staff at the Dream Center have loved me just the way I was, or am! They NEVER tried to change me or to have me conform to their way, they just loved me. Seriously, when I had 10 pieces of metal in my face, a mohawk and a 6′ iguana around my neck they loved me. When I wear a suit they love me. When I smoked cigarettes they loved me. Once, Pastor Matthew caught me off guard as I inhaled a cigarette. He put his arms around me and started to pray for me. I held my breath as long as I could and I eventually exhaled smoke right into his face as he was praying. He never said a word about it.

Today I didn’t carry a bible to church. Last Thursday I did. Same church and I felt comfortable either way. One church made me not only carry a bible but it had to be a certain kind of bible. Another church when I started to use my PDA as a bible I was chastised (the future is coming people, print bibles will be a thing of the past before you know it). What does it matter if you have a bible or not? Come on wake up! As an unchurched person I didn’t carry a bible. Walking into a church where having a bible is MANDITORY it would make me feel uncomfortable. It would make ANYONE who does not have a relationship with Jesus feel uncomfortable. Tell me, does holding a bible make me a better Christian? Please know I agree with carrying a bible but I don’t agree with making people feel uncomfortable if they don’t, or trying to control people to your ways!

I got on the subject about Windsor Crossing with a few friends who I love and respect. Windsor Crossing is a gorgeous church that has a sincere outreach focus and is one of the fastest growing ministries in the St Louis area. My friends said they went but the reason they didn’t like it is because people didn’t carry their bibles. HUH? I went there several times and I carried a bible. Some people did, and some didn’t, and that was not a big deal. The big deal was how Windsor effectively created community. I felt very comfortable there and that is probably the reason for their growth. As an unbeliever it would be easy for me to find friends and more importantly spiritual and emotional healing at Windsor. I felt welcomed and loved just the way I was.

A few months back I happened to witness one of the most horrifying situations I have ever seen in my 15 years of fulltime ministry. A homeless man went to the altar, but he was followed by armed police with handcuffs drawn. Street people by nature are very aware of everything that happens around them. I guarantee you this homeless man on his knees at the altar did not feel comfortable with police poised ready to pounce on him. As horrific as what that man must have been feeling it is not as bad as the impression that was given to the church, and especially people visiting. You may give toothpaste and water to homeless on the weekends but in your own” living room” clearly they are not welcomed. Ironically it is not the homeless population that presents a security risk. All the shootings that have happened in recent years the people looked like normal folk. Having security show such force over one homeless man at an altar is ignorant and shows the real heart of the church. Maybe not the pastor’s but the church he created and maintains. Sadly even though members of the church and many staff were very disturbed by police showing such an unnecessary show of force no one would voice their concerns to leadership. Nothing changed and the next person who looks a little unkempt most likely will be “greeted” the same way.

Is your church environment REALLY welcoming to the unbeliever? As Pastor Tommy and Matthew Barnett often say “if you don’t have a few beer cans and cigarette butts in front of your church you have a country club”. Of course, not all unchurched smoke and drink, the point is unless you allow people to be themselves chances are they won’t stick around long enough to have Jesus stick to their spirit.

Pastor Tommy is my hero. He loves everyone and loves them right where they are at. Because he and everyone else at the Dream Center has never tried to change me, or control me in anyway, I was made to feel like I belong, and now I believe.

Services at Angelus Temple/Dream Center are not for everyone meaning you may not like the music or the lights, but everyone no matter who you are or where you came from is made to feel welcome – and that makes all the difference.

People pay me to help their churches grow. I can tell you what a first time visitor thinks on the first visit and what questions they ask after 6 months. I can tell you when to call, what to write and how to train your greeters to go deeper. But the key to church growth is really none of that crap. Love on people with a sincere heart, don’t try and change anyone allowing everyone to be themselves, and create a healthy environment where people can feel like they belong. Then step back and let God do the rest!

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  • Cindie

    I cant wait to sit and talk to you! Cant wait to catch up on the years I missed. You have been thru some crap… which shines thru in your blogs… And now you are so much deeper and stronger than the mark I once knew. Im proud of you Hardly Normal!

  • nice poast

  • such a nice story!