community of grace, Discipleship, inclusion, love, welcome

What we are and What we should be…

Marg Simpson asked her son Bart if he had had a good time away at Church camp, he said “I had a great time learning to be more judgemental!”

Yesterday I put up on Facebook/Twitter a quote from Steve Chalke who said: “Church is designed to be a community of friends, where people are not judged, but loved, accepted and welcomed home”.

Yet someone asked a great question, what about 1 Cor. 5:12 “Expel the immoral believer”

The question I think is asking is there a place for ‘judging in the Church’?

Can judging ever be loving?

Or is this a misunderstand of love?

Billy Graham once said: “God’s job is to Judge, the Holy Spirit’s job is to convict and my job to love”. -Often the problem is when I try and do God’s job for him!

‘Love bade me welcome but I drew back full of guilt and shame’ wrote Hymn-writer George Herbert, just like the dad in the story of the prodigal son love welcomes in irrespective of past sin, so our Churches ought to welcome people no matter what.

Yet those who need love, grace and mercy most are those who fear our judgement and so stay away from the Community of Christ and that is a tragedy.

I remember being taught about how Jesus called people first to belong, then to believe and then they became disciples.

As I pondered this I was reminded by a quote by Philip Yancey “God loves us just the way we are, but he loves us too much to let us stay that way”.

As Church I believe we are called to be a community of grace, but also realise that Church is -or at least ought to be- a ‘transformative community’.

Zacchaeus began a dinner with Jesus as dishonest, unscrupulous crook and by the end of the meal was transformed giving away half his cash and repaying back four-fold those from whom he had stolen from. -In one conversation with Christ he went through the “belonging” – “believing” -and “becoming -a disciple”.

Shane Claiborne once said the problem with Church is we come and we sing “Just as I am, but the problem is we leave just as we were, and carry on as we always have”.

Church ought to be a community which loves and accepts us, irrespective of what we do, or don’t do (I believe) but yet it should never leave people unchanged, in fact it should be a community which inspires and spurs us on to me more Christ like.

Yet what we ought to be, and we actually are, aren’t the same thing!

The problem we have in our Churches is people come and be part of us and yet aren’t changed and transformed, and their behaviour carries exactly the same…and that is a tragedy.

Whilst I worked in rehab, I saw amazing gracious and long suffering love shown to many of the clients there, yet it was a tough love, it was a risk taking love, love isn’t always letting everyone do exactly as they want, after all, we love our children, but love isn’t letting them do exactly as they want.

As Church leaders, often we have to be ‘guardian of the culture’, which means ensuring that Church is a safe place for everyone and enabling people to flourish and grow, to do this will inevitable involve conflict, challenging conversations and heart break.

I remember as a youth worker, someone once asked, “are you prepared for your heart to be broken on a fairly regular basis?”

Yet I believe that to be the most Christ like Church this is by being a community of grace, with accountability and mentoring rather than a place that evicts sinners.

If we become a Church which habitually evicts sinners, I know I’m heading for the door, as I know I am a Vicar, but I am also a sinner in massive need of God’s grace.

I am reminded of Christ’s words which say “let him without sin cast the first stone”…

Yet alongside this, I also have a responsibility as an “under shepherd” to protect the sheep God has given us, and although I have had many a ‘sheep bite’ and am scared of what is called “heavy shepherding” sometimes we have to fight the cause of the broken, marginalised and disenfranchised (sadly too often Churches and clergy seem to side with the bully and the powerful and blame the victim, which is disgusting and again is a tragedy) but on those occasions we need sometimes to step in and sometimes, although it must break God’s heart, people walk different ways and paths.

The last resort, and never the first option.

…I believe too that, where possible doors must be left open, and people welcomed back with love and grace.

…Broken Church communities are not God’s plan, but then we live in a very fallen world which is not as God intended.

…Sometimes, Churches being full of broken people who makes mistakes and get things wrong and in that the community of Christ which is meant to bring healing end up causing hurt and that too is a tragedy.

When I think of what Christ calls us to be as Church, it makes me realise afresh how we can’t be this community without him empowering help…

So, somehow let us seek to be who we are called to be, and not what we sometimes sadly become… will you join me in the revolution of trying afresh to be the Church that Christ wants.


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