There is a sign on the door of my gym that says "everybody welcome". It is a play on words that makes me smile and reflect. What they want is for people to believe that their gym is not for people who are physical specimens of health, but that all body types are welcome to come and take steps towards physical health. The slogan is supported by before and after pictures of ordinary people who have apparently had their lives transformed by their club membership and/or the help of a personal trainer. It's good advertising.
To be honest I like this slogan. It captures for me what I think a gym should be all about - a bunch of out of shape people who realize that something needs to change. The goal does not need to be that they enter beauty pageants but that they simply are trying to move towards being healthier. There is even a part of my brain that can envision shouts of celebration when someone who has never been to the gym before comes for the first time and people clamor to show them around.
In a similar way, I think that this is what the church is to be all about. That we have a sign on our door that says that everybody is welcome and we acknowledge that we exist to help people who are spiritually unhealthy and searching to move forward into spiritual healthy and vitality.
Unfortunately the reality of my gym is that is doesn't always feel like everybody is actually welcome all the time. Sure no one actually screens out the fat people, but there are an awful lot of buff people walking around and making the rest of us nervous. These are the people who make spandex look good and, no matter what time of day you decide to workout, are always there. The result is that I don't always feel like I can relax and be the recovering fat guy that I truly am. I know that it is not wise to be comparing myself to others but it is not hard to feel inadequate, weak and hopeless at times.
I have to wonder if people feel this way about the church at times too. Sure the church has an open door policy, but I think we can present like we have it all together a bit too much and freak out those who really need to be there. I am not sure this means being disingenuous about the spiritual victories that we may have seen, but I think it means speaking of them in such a way that is encouraging and inviting.
In closing, I have always thought that the church should be thought of more often as a support group sort of like AA. As a church we are a gathering of people who have been rescued from sin by Jesus. We gather not as people who have it all together but as people who are recovering sinners, seeking to grow into the fullness of Christ. Each of us is fully dependent upon God for this transformation to take place and we look to each other for encouragement and support in the journey.
May we be communities of faith where EVERYBODY is truly welcome!