I wore my running shoes to church today.
Some of you are saying, “So what?” If so, you might be among the throngs who now wear jeans and t-shirts to church on Sundays and don’t think twice about it. But for others, wearing running shoes and “street clothes” is a huge no-no, an offense that would bring down the wrath of the powers-that-be in your church.
Please don’t assume that I’m passing any judgment here, because that’s the last thing I want to do. I’ve been a member of both camps.
When I was a teenager, a woman I loved dearly told me that we have to dress up for church because Jesus wants our best. (In full disclosure, the topic came up because she was gossiping Sunday afternoon about the attire of someone who had not dressed up Sunday morning. Just so you know.)
Naïve and respectful, I thought she must be right. After all, she was older than I was and had been serving in the church since before I was born. Years later, I realized that she might have just missed the whole message of the gospel. Jesus’ gospel, anyway. Some churches have their own.
You see, Jesus has different requirements for us than the world does, and they most definitely do NOT include wearing “church clothes” to come worship him. His requirements? Come. Follow me. Love your neighbor as yourself. No heels and pantyhose required.
I’m sure if I did some research, I could find out when the tradition of dressing up originated and what the reasons were. Truth is, I don’t care. All I know is that now – in 2013 when we have stars twerking onstage and teenagers wearing shorts smaller than some of my underwear – many churches require that people dress a certain way to come in the doors. “Look like us, and we welcome you. If not, we will politely have a deacon escort you out a side entrance.” What nonsense. If the people are coming, why in the world are we doing anything to turn them away?!
You know why I love my church? Because we have people who wear shorts smaller than my underwear, and they are welcome. They sit in our services and sing our songs. Some of them are not yet believers, but they come because our church is a place where their presence is welcomed. We are nice to them. I had a girl tell me just this morning that she had been visiting churches and in some of them, no one spoke to her. She said, and I quote here, “It was like nobody there cared.” Unreal.
At my church, we don’t ask unbelievers to dress like believers – we first introduce them to Jesus, and then disciple them so that their behavior (and dress) come into alignment with his commands. But we don’t exclude them from the beginning and make demands of them that Jesus only made of his followers.
So many people are turned off from church – and ultimately, from Jesus – because church members (I will not use the term ‘followers’ here on purpose) are some of the most judgmental, demanding, and unkind people around. Some church members are nothing like Jesus, who spent time with the unacceptable – tax collectors, prostitutes, and lepers. The true test of our faith might just be how we interact with the people most unlike us. Do we treat them as Jesus would, or do we look down our lofty noses and make silent judgments? Do we sing every verse of “Just As I Am” but say to people, “Uh, but not like that?”
My church is not perfect, and goodness knows I’m not. But we make every effort to introduce people to the Jesus who spent time with a sinful woman and THEN told her, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). There seemed to be an order: meet Jesus, THEN change.
We have decided that our role, at our church, is to do whatever it takes to arrange the introduction. The changing? We’ll let the Miracle Worker handle that.