As I was doing some yard clean-up in my front garden the other day, I accidentally startled a wild rabbit who had been nibbling on the grass nearby.
Alarmed, he made a dash for the backyard, where I knew the rabbits had made a home in the dense shrubbery in the corner.
The only problem was that I’d closed the gate to the backyard. The rabbit couldn’t get to safety.
The rabbit looked at me nervously, then ran all the way around the perimeter of the fence to where there was another access point the bunnies could use to get into the backyard.
I felt bad that I’d closed off the direct route to his home, and vowed to always leave the back gate slightly ajar for my wild rabbit friends.
It struck me that there was a lesson here for believers.
When it comes to unbelievers, do we “leave the gate open,” so to speak, at our churches?
Or do we put so many obstructions in their way that they find it hard to reach the safety of God’s arms?
Oftentimes, it seems that longstanding believers aren’t as welcoming as we could be to those who want to find a home in God’s family. We may look down our noses at the attire or lifestyle of newcomers. We might give them the impression that they have to get their act together before God will accept them.
Some churches introduce so many hoops to jump through that it’s easier to apply for a passport than it is to join one of their Bible study groups!
But if we do this sort of thing, we risk disheartening people who are seekers. They may feel that they’ll never measure up to our “standards” or be good enough for God.
What happens then is that their first tentative steps toward becoming a Christian may become their last. They simply never bother returning to our church, or any church, for that matter.
This would be a crying shame. People desperately need to be exposed to the love of God and the forgiveness offered through Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.
So let’s make it as easy as possible for unbelievers to walk through our doors. Let’s not throw up a bunch of rules that they need to follow before we welcome them into our fold.
For new believers, conforming to God’s ways will happen over time. It’s a gradual process that’s accomplished through God’s grace, through the Holy Spirit living inside them and sanctifying them, through the study of God’s Word, and through the example of mature Christians.
That’s the way it happened for longstanding believers, isn’t it? And thank God that we found accepting churches and fellow Christians who were patient with us (and still are!) as we grow into the likeness of Jesus.
So let’s welcome people as they are. Our job isn’t to keep seekers out, but to let them in so they can experience the awesome love and forgiveness that God offers everyone.
Our job is to leave the gate open!
© 2021 Lori J. Cartmell. All rights reserved.