I got to attend a church conference this last weekend with Jeff. It included Assembly of God ministers and their congregations from all over the south central and western part of our state. Several of these Pastors were people my husband and I have known from the 30 yrs we will celebrate being in Kansas this coming October. Although I was born here in Kansas, I attended 9 different schools in 5 different states in the 12 yrs of my education. Jeff was born and raised in the same town in Alabama, in fact he lived on the same street all his life, and I met him when my father was pastoring his home church. Then after marriage, Jeff and I lived in Alabama and Georgia before moving to Kansas.
Needless to say , that much moving around doesn’t give a girl much security. I still battle anxiety going to these types of meetings of our peers. You would think after all my experience in meeting new people, it wouldn’t bother me anymore, but it does. Our teacher at this particular event was a former pastor and district leader of our denomination. He was a co-worker in the ministry that in the past years we had spent a lot of time with. Actually, Jeff and I were just barely wet behind the ears in our own ministry, when this man was a leader, so of course we looked up to him and appreciated the time he took with us.
As I sat around that room this weekend. I looked around and saw many of those pastors and their wives that were in the district when we first came to Kansas. Those were the people that Jeff and I have looked up to for so many years thinking “Maybe one day we will be as awesome as they are”, “Maybe one day, we will be able to help others, like they have helped us”. Looking in the mirror now, there is a few more wrinkles in all of our faces.
When we looked around that room, it wasn’t just our old friends that were there, but there was a whole new crew of younger, newer pastors in that room. And if you look closer, many of the pastors we looked up to are now gone. The funny thing is, these new pastor are starting to look at Jeff and I , like we looked at our old friends, when we first came to the Kansas District Council of the Assemblies of God all those years ago.
I have to say, it was quite a weird and yet awesome experience I had this weekend. It was weird to me because maybe for the first time, I felt like I belonged, I felt like I was in “The Club”, the club of a group of people who could sit around and talk about memories they have, of the fun days they spent together at church camps and ministry events, and the times we have prayed for each other. There is a bond between us that is like no other I have ever had, except when we lived in the Kansas City area for 13 years. In both cases, we had experienced things with our friends that built a bond between us, that you don’t get by going to 9 schools in 5 different states in 12 years, and I have to admit it felt good. If felt good to belong to a group again.
You know, all this got me thinking….. It is a proven fact that we all have a need for security and significance. We all desire to be loved unconditionally. We want our lives to have purpose of something greater than ourselves. Of course we who are followers of Christ know that He is the only one that will be able to fill that need. But we also have to know that there is a group of people in this world that will never care about hearing what we have to say, if we don’t make them feel like they belong. If we don’t invest time into their lives and love them by making regular deposits in their relationship banks.
For to long, the church has made people feel that you have to believe like we do before you can feel like you belong to the church. Why is it that we separate ourselves as Christ followers from the very people God told us to “Go into all the world and share the gospel” ? (Mark 16:15)
I think if we could learn to love the people around us with the love of God, like we have been called to do, there would not be a church pew in the County that would be empty on Sunday mornings.
I can’t tell you the people I have talked to that say the reason they don’t go to church is because they don’t feel welcome. They say things like “They ignore me when they see me in public or “They wouldn’t even speak to me in church”.
How can we, as the church, even call ourselves the church, if we fail to do the most important thing Jesus said we were to do and that is to. “‘…Love your neighbor as yourself ” Matt 22:39 Christ called this part the most important commandment.
So how about we change all that. First off, if you attend a church this week, make sure you welcome everyone in the building and be friendly to those outside the four walls, despite their past. We never know what just a smile and a handshake can mean to someone.
Then, Secondly, if you don’t go to church on a regular basis, and you have been made to feel like you don’t belong in a church, how about you rise above that feeling and follow what the bible says “Love your neighbor as yourself” There aren’t too many people I know that can’t forgive themselves of something as simple as not saying “Hi” or shaking hands with someone, then get up and go to church this week.
Let’s all make an extra effort to make those around us feel like they belong. In a small community like this, it is easy to let past hurts and offenses keep us from being kind and friendly to others. But if we are going to follow what God tell us to do, we need to love those around us, as we love ourselves. (Matt 22:37) So how about this week, we do just that. Let’s make people feel like they belong, even if they don’t believe or live the way we do.
After all, Paul told us in Romans 5:8 “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”. If we are really gonna be like Christ, let’s die to our old ways and those old feelings of being better than someone else, and let’s show everyone we know, the same love, compassion, and forgiveness that has been given to us. Because I firmly believe, “Those who can’t forgive, have forgotten what they have been forgiven of” So lets make sure people know they belong here no matter how long they have lived here, or what we may or may not know about them. Let’s be Jesus’ hands and feet this week.