In a meeting a week or so ago, someone said, “Yeah, but if we do that they’ll feel too comfortable and then they’ll bring 20 people with them.” I was sad that this is our outlook. I say “our” because I don’t think this person is alone in her sentiment. Many have expressed to me a concern that having homeless visible in the front of our church will only attract more or that allowing disruptive youth to come to crew for Christ will only encourage them to come back and bring more disruptive friends. I’ve heard concerns that if we feed hungry people that more hungry people will come. What those concerns express is that we only want certain people to come and feel welcome enough to bring 20 friends we wouldn’t think twice if J &P or F brought 20 friends. We’d accept them with open arms if those 20 people act and react like J, P, and F.
But what if the man covered with tattoos and piercing with sagging pants came in…are we convicted we want him to bring 20 friends? Or are we fearful they’ll do drugs or bring guns or be gang members? Or the woman who pushes the shopping cart full of cans and bottles—are we ready for her to bring 20 friends? Do we embrace and welcome her in the fullness we welcome D & P or are we concerned she might feel too comfortable and spend more time here and be tempted to bring 20 of her cart-pushing friends?
Living the Gospel of Christ means welcoming all people—regardless of how they look, even when we are fearful, especially when we aren’t exactly sure how to minister to them. In God’s house there is no such thing as “too comfortable” or “too many friends”. We may feel more justified guarding ourselves against someone with tattoos or a shopping cart, but we are no less prejudiced than when we guard ourselves against someone because of the color of their skin or their gender. Prejudice is prejudice, and prejudice has no place in the house of God.
I do not mean to imply that this will be simple or easy for us. Quite the contrary, for if we are honest with ourselves, living the gospel in these ways is tremendously difficult. We must conquer our fears and battle our prejudices in consistent and ongoing ways. But the Gospel is not promised to be without challenges. God does not tell us, “Go visit the imprisoned when you feel safe and comfortable doing so.” Christ simply tells us to visit the imprisoned.
There aren't caveats and special allowances, just a mandate to go and serve and feed and clothe and visit. And the hope would be that "they" would feel so welcome that they invite 20 friends!