Earlier this week, I read a blog entry called “I Hate Church” and it described an experience a lot of people who don’t go to church go through whenever they first visit a church. Check out their info, they’re pretty awesome.
Does the church actually make it welcoming for outsiders? What if a man in a torn shirt and ripped jeans showed up to the church — would we make him feel welcome? Here’s a bit from the blog that is the inspiration for this blog entry:
“…My wife and I find ourselves deciding to visit some prominent churches in our city, as well as churches that we have preached at in the past. She would wear a mini-skirt, I would wear some baggy jeans with a hat put on backwards, with big diamond earrings in my ears, and we would pretend like we didn’t know much about how “church worked.” In almost every single church no one would say hi to us, people would simply stare at us, I had people in services tap me on my shoulder and tell me to take my hat off… Some of my Pastor friends didn’t even recognize it was me and were absolutely shocked when I revealed myself. All in all… most places left me not wanting to ever come back. I remember in one service I couldn’t even focus on the message because I was so infuriated as to how this one lady treated me. I wanted to tell her I’m an ordained minister and read off my rap sheet out of some misplaced sense of pride, but I managed to keep it together.”
This experience is something I get. I never dressed out of place in church. In fact, I was programmed to be that person to stare at people who dressed in “non-church clothes.” I was that judgmental person.
PRESENTATION POINTS AT CHURCH
I grew up in an Episcopal Church. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the style of the church, it’s a church where people dress nicely with button up shirts, dress pants and the rest of the leaders had to dress up in the big robes and all. The entire service was all about presentation, ritual with hymns, pews, lather, rinse and repeat.
This was what I thought church was. This was how I was taught to believe it was about. Every Sunday before going to church, I had wear a polo shirt and dress pants and shoes. This was what I believed was the way it had to be.
“You dress nice because you want to present yourself at your best to God” my cousin once told me. Even one time, I untucked my shirt and someone wondered if that was allowed. It seemed to me that it was really a Cain and Abel situation, where our goal was to impress God. But obviously, that’s not what God wants. But that’s the way I was taught. I didn’t like it, but I accepted it because this was the culture that was was embedded in me.
And because of this, I’ve seen people come in windbreaker jackets, jeans and other kinds of clothing I thought I was not allowed to wear. I would stare. I would wonder why that person would intentionally be different.
It was all about presentation. And it’s not to say that presentation isn’t great, but because of this, the church became exclusive. Outsiders looking in probably wouldn’t feel comfortable. And at the same time, we didn’t seem very comfortable with someone different coming in because they didn’t conform to our ways. It ended up being the complete opposite of what a real good church is supposed to be about.
WAIT, I CAN WEAR THAT AT CHURCH?
I moved away from home to go to college and it was there that I learned that church wasn’t all what I had thought it would be. I started hanging out with people who felt comfortable going to church in jeans and a T-shirt. It blew my mind. This was something I didn’t know was acceptable. And still, I tried to dress nicely when I went to church just because I didn’t feel comfortable being comfortable.
I remember one time during worship (which was also new to me since I grew up going to church with an organ and hymns) that I saw the bass guitarist wearing this cap backwards. I thought caps were a no-no in church. It was a huge mind blown for me. But for everyone else, this was normal. This is what they wanted to wear.
There’s nothing wrong against dressing nicely to church, but there is also absolutely nothing wrong for wearing a cap in church either. It isn’t about making a presentation to God or to each other. Instead, it’s about your relationship with God. And we should be comfortable with God that we don’t need to dress nice to impress Him. After all, isn’t that what God seeks from us?
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
— 1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV)
COME AS YOU ARE
Nirvana had a big hit single called “Come As You Are” and even though I didn’t get into the band until 10 years after Kurt Cobain’s death, this song is my favorite from them. It’s a little dark, but the lyrics continue to speak to me this day and I think it captures what churches like the one I grew up in was missing out.
Much like Jesus, the lyrics to the song asked people to come as they are. Whether they were friends or enemies, clean or dirty, late or early, they were welcomed. There was no fear of being judged (or being shot at by a gun for being different). Jesus wants us to come to Him as we are. God created us to be unique individuals.
That should be the way we should make churches. We need to welcome people to come to church as they are, not as we want them to be. After all, who would want to come to a place where they don’t feel comfortable?
I wonder how many people who are visiting churches for the first time are comfortable being who they are. Churches at times give off that impression that everyone has to conform to the style. And that first impression of what we wear makes a huge difference.
After all, who wants a fake front and people to be something they’re not? There’s no fun in that.
I remember growing up that our church clothes or our “Sunday Best” was a label that designated certain clothes for church. Much like clothes we are supposed to wear for work or clothes we wear for playing basketball, certain clothes are needed to fit certain events and occasions. But my perception of the right clothes for church has changed.
Even though I was wired to believe that I had to dress nice every Sunday, I really didn’t like it. I felt restricted and that reflected the way my old church was. I’ve been to churches that didn’t judge me for being who I am and those are the ones I hope more churches become. The last thing I want to see is to have a newcomer or seeker feel left out because they were different.
On the average day, I like to wear a T-shirt, a pair of shorts and a ball cap. That’s who I am and that’s how I want to be comfortable when I come to church. I feel comfortable with God that I don’t need to impress Him. And if God’s OK with me being who I am, I hope churches begin to adopt that mindset as well.