On Saturday I was in the city participating in the peaceful protests out the front of Parliament and along the streets of our city. The event was huge, by far the biggest crowd that I’ve ever been a part of. The purpose of this article is not to talk about why I felt I wanted to attend, feel free to ask me if you like.
What is important is that it was peaceful, it was diverse, it was joyful and it was welcoming and inclusive. I was able to talk freely with people, to hear their stories, to talk about Jesus and to encourage them.
What I want to share with you is the feeling that I had while I was there and how it surprised me. As we finished the march, and began to walk away from the crowds back to the car, is when I really began to notice it. I don’t know how to describe it but it was like walking out of the daylight and back into the shadow, out of a place of welcome, belonging, freedom and acceptance, to a place where I instantly became guarded. Where once I’d smiled at people beside me and talked freely, I had to fight the instinct to not look people in the eye.
What surprised me?
Even though it was my first time there, and first time at any protest, and though I was a stranger to everyone else there, I felt welcomed, invited to belong. No one else knew anyone about me, but just the fact that I turned up meant that their arms were open to me. It was a place where I felt loved, welcomed and where I could belong.
As I thought about it, I had a longing for our church community to be just like that for the people who come, especially those who visit for the first time. This is what the church should be! This is what we have to be.
I’m convinced that this is what brand-new church in the book of Acts was like. The translators of the New Living Translation have attached this heading in chapter 2:
“The believers form a community.”
And we read:
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.
A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42 – 47)
This is what our Church will be
Just imagine how it would be if people experienced church like that today. That as anyone walked away from the front door, they knew that they’d spent time with a greatly diverse group of people who loved them, who accepted them, who stood with them. I’m convinced that should be our aim.
All around us are messages of descent towards the Gospel. Together we are loved, accepted and welcomed, in the church we belong. And the Good News is that while protests will end, at least hopefully they will around these issues that are dividing our community. These issues may end, but the Church will not. She will face opposition and persecution, but she will always keep taking ground from the enemy, every new soul saved is another taken from the hands of the evil one.
Jesus said: I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. Matthew 16:18
We can be that kind of welcoming, loving, inclusive and accepting community that the book of Acts inspires us to be. It will happen as we gather with a heart to welcome others. So let me remind you, that when you come to church, this church or any church, do so knowing that you are with people who love, understand and accept you, and that there are people who need to be loved, understood and accepted. Let’s make sure everyone feels welcome, because that is the privilege of each one of us, and let’s make sure everyone can’t wait to return again next time.
All the believers were united in heart and mind. (Acts 4:32)