“You don’t want me at your church! Lightning might strike when I come inside!”
Thus goes the joke that I’ve heard more times than I can count.
Sometimes it’s after I’ve invited someone to join us on a Sunday. Maybe we’ve been talking about God and it’s obvious they’d like to talk about it more. Maybe it’s a friend or neighbour who asks what our church is about. Or a family from camp whose kids have had a great time all week, so we tell them they are welcome back. Nervously, they joke: “I don’t think I should come on Sunday – lightning might strike!”
It’s actually kind of funny how often I hear this joke. Especially since, from what I’ve hear, lightening has never actually struck a church when someone sinister has walked inside. It’s never struck when I’ve walked inside a church either, which I think is equally impressive.
The thing is, though, no one actually believes lightning will strike if they walk into a church. But there is a fear there. The fear is the “lightning strikes” that might come from the people of God. They can be considerably more painful.
I can tell more stories about those kind of strikes than I care to remember. The teenaged girl told she should be ashamed because she was wearing a shirt deemed too short. The woman who was asked to stop bringing her child after a few weeks because he had special needs and was “too disruptive.” The man who was shunned after people discovered he had a criminal record. I make none of these up.
Then there are the people who are told they are too dirty or too different or too divorced or too loud or too gay or too female or too sinful or too didn’t-grow-up-in-this-church or too wearing-a-baseball-hat to be able to seek God in a certain church community. Strike, strike, strike. Is it any wonder people are afraid of church lightning?
This is why I really like the motto that has been adopted at the church I call home: “Come, just as you are.” I preached about it this Sunday (you can hear it at http://podcasting.mhbc.ca/11600-2015-09-13+Leanne+Friesen.mp3).
After this sermon, I heard story after story of “church lightning strikes,” like the ones above. Now I’m starting to think that one important way people can live into the motto of “come as you are” is actually very simple: do what you can to avoid being a lightning strike.
You want to make a comment about what someone is wearing? Or the coffee they’re carrying? Or the noise their child is making? Or the seat they’ve chosen to sit in? It feels incredibly important to tell a guy to take his hat off, or to scowl at someone smoking outside the door? Just – don’t. Sometimes saying “come as you are” can be as simple as saying nothing when you really feel you “just need to say something.” Make sense?
This is not to say you should not speak to someone you recognize as new to your community. Definitely say something… but may I suggest choosing from these options:
“I’m glad you’re here.”
“Nice to meet you.”
“What’s your name?”
“Do you need help with anything?”
“Would you like to sit with me?”
Less lightning. More love.
Come, just as you are.