Outside my office window is a large crape myrtle. A cardinal has taken up residence in that tree. Whenever I go into my office, I turn the light on, which apparently wakes the cardinal. After about five minutes, the cardinal flies up to my window ledge and begins to peck at it. Then, he will turn, fly off, do a U-turn and fly straight into the glass. I think he doesn't like me disturbing his rest. I understand. I don't like people turning on the light when I'm trying to sleep either.
I can't figure out what the cardinal wants. Does he want me to turn off the light so he can get back to sleep? Does he want me to not talk so loud? Does he want me to open the window and let him into the warmth of the building? Sometimes I look at him and say, "I'm sorry, I don't speak bird."
My feathered friend is disrupting. I'll have a meeting in my office. We'll be at very serious moment. Then we hear, "THUNK." The bird has flown into the window again. Or I will be talking to someone about a very serious issue in her family. She is crying, and I need to offer words of pastoral comfort. Then I heard "TAP, TAP, TAP, TAP." The tears stop and whoever is in my office says, "What was that?" I respond, "Just our version of 'Angry Birds.' Please continue.'"
There are people outside the church who run into our windows. They tap at our window sills. We aren't sure what they want. They can be annoying. Sometimes, we're not even sure we should let them into church. Maybe, we think, they simply aren't church people. Maybe, they would be better off if they went to a church with other people like them. "Birds of a feather stick together, you know."
This is not what Jesus had in mind for his church. He never intended his body to be only for the people that fit in. The invitation is clear: "Whosoever will come, let him take freely of the water of life." "Whosoever" is Jesus' heart. "Whosoever" requires courage; it requires intentionality; it requires empathy; it requires mindfulness.
Most churches deny they put up barriers. Every church I have ever been part of or consulted with assured me, "We are a friendly church." The reality is, they were friendly to people they already knew. It takes energy to meet new people and to make new friends. Some churches just won't spend the energy. Some churches just don't have the heart.
There is an easy fix to this: See everyone the way Jesus sees them. Give your best effort at understanding their needs. Invite them to come to church with you. Speak to strangers at church before you engage your "circle."
Despite the decline in church attendance, I am convinced people are hungry to be known, loved and accepted. Will you listen to the taps on the windows and welcome in people who need to know church is a place of grace?
Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter.
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