The other day, I met someone for the first time at a church event. We exchanged normal small-talk like, “Where ya from?” “What’s your major?” “How long have you been coming to church here?” This girl, who we will call Karen, explained that she grew up in church, but fell out of it as she got older. She got involved in things she wasn’t proud of and lost touch with members of the church with whom she was once very close with. She told me that walking through church doors actually made her anxious because of the harsh judgment from believers she experienced when she strayed away. And that broke me. You should feel anxious before getting a root canal or before a big exam, but no one should ever feel anxious about coming to church. She didn’t feel welcome and she certainly didn’t feel loved by the church and because of that, she avoided it like the plague for years.
Her story reminds me of a hundred other horror stories I’ve heard from people who have been rejected and mistreated by members of the church. It’s important to remember though that the church is not perfect. Every single one of us is a sinning hypocrite in need of grace, so expecting perfection from believers is ridiculous and quite possibly, impossible. We will slip up, handle things the wrong way, speak too soon, and frankly, we will sin because we are sinners. However, as the body of Jesus Christ, we are to hold ourselves to a higher standard and ultimately strive to reflect the love of Jesus in everything we do.
Loving others seems like a simple concept, but it’s easy to get it twisted. Here are three misconceptions about loving people we tend to mix up:
Now, I’m not saying that Christians should accept, embrace, and encourage sinful lifestyles. Biblical correction and spiritual accountability are incredibly vital in the church. Ultimately, true love is helping one another become more like Christ and pointing each other toward the truth. But it starts with compassion and kindness. It starts with having open-arms, building genuine relationships, and caring deeply for people. Ultimately, Jesus does the changing, not us, but how are people going to experience Jesus if they’re afraid of coming to church? How will they ever trust our Gospel if they can’t trust us? If we want to reach people for Christ, it starts with our posture and attitude towards others. Are we exemplifying the love of Jesus to everyone we meet? Or do we reserve that love only for people who we feel are worthy of it?
Back in my glory days of the youth group (shout out to all my RHBCers out there!), I remember learning a specific concept that has stuck with me since. Horseshoes are better than circles. Sounds weird, right? But it makes sense, I promise. Imagine this: you walk into a church function where you don’t know a soul. Everyone’s clumped up with their crew, chatting it up and just enjoying some innocent fellowship. You want to join a group, but when everyone is positioned in a circle with no open areas, it’s physically pretty difficult to slide into the conversation. Of course, no one intends to be exclusive when standing in this position, but intentional or not, people get left out. So rather than standing in a circle with no open spaces, we should stand in the shape of a horseshoe, allowing others to easily join in on the conversation. It seems like a small gesture, but it’s entirely more inclusive and it goes way deeper than just standing in a particular way.
The horseshoes are better than circles mentality should be our mantra for how we love others as the church body. Are we letting people in? Are we postured in a way that includes and invites everyone? Are we demonstrating love in everything we do? This is how Christ calls us to love because this is the way that Jesus loved: intentionally, inclusively, and without condition.
McKenna Best is a Carolina girl currently residing in the bachelorette and hipster capital of the world. She believes in Jesus, dancing in the kitchen, and slow mornings. McKenna is an assistant youth director and spends her afternoons working with middle schoolers in West Nashville. In her free time, you can find her eating Chipotle, making an excessive amount of Spotify playlists, writing in a coffee shop, watching The Office, or spontaneously buying a plane ticket somewhere. She is passionate about equipping youth to unlock their potential and be all that God has called them to be, whether that be through teaching Bible lessons, or writing articles for a variety of online platforms