I was recently asked the question, "What issue does the church need to tackle the most?"
That question got me thinking. There are issues like poverty, homelessness, lack of clean drinking water, war, and sickness that are ruining lives around the world on a daily basis. However, there is a major foundation we are missing as a body of Christ that is causing people to stay as far away from the church as they can.
Our issue is that we generally stick around with those who think, talk, and act like we do. And I'm not even talking about Christians only being around other Christians. I'm talking about the way that we as Christians separate ourselves into segments based on where we stand on certain issues or what background we come from.
While it's natural to want to be around people you agree with, it's important to gain the ability to be around and love people who you disagree with. And sometimes being around people who have a different view on the world can stir something within you and broaden your point of view. Being closed-minded is a common stereotype of the church, so how cool would it be to see that turned around? Just imagine how powerful it would be to see us as a church becoming as open to other people as Jesus was and still is.
We also talk a lot in the church about how important diversity is, but mostly the word "diversity" is reserved for diversity of races. But I think the word can and should be used in a broader sense. We need diversity of race, yes, but we also need diversity of backgrounds so that we can learn that a person's past does not define their future. We need diversity in the way that we dress so that we can learn to not judge someone by how they choose to express themselves. We need diversity in age so that generations can intermingle and share stories, advice and wisdom with one another. We need diversity in beliefs so that our point of view is not based on assumptions, but is shaped by others' stories.
Diversity and openness may sound like trivial problems compared to the issues going on around the world, but if we are unable to have a solid foundation within ourselves as a body of believers, how can we go out and help the world?
How does it look to an outside person to see a group of people who all love the same God, and yet bash each other for the little differences that always seem to come between us?
The truth is, it doesn't look good. So my plea to the church is to continue to reach out to those suffering in the world, but to also realize that there are people suffering amongst our congregations because they don't feel like they fit into the cookie-cutter Christian mold. Learn their stories, hear their points of view because you can't truly love a person until you know them.
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” -Mark 12:29-31