Judged not Loved: An Open Letter to Christians
Twice in as many days, I have heard someone say they really want to go to church. They tell me they are interested in learning more about God, buy every time they go to a church, they feel “judged and not loved”. I heard those exact words from two people separated by an ocean. Unfortunately, I don’t believe these two are isolated cases and that saddens me. Churches should be a place that welcomes new people. Yet often, that isn’t the case.
My New Church Experience
About 8 years ago I moved to a new area, and that meant finding a new church. I didn’t know anyone in the area yet, so I looked in the local paper and found a list of churches and service times. The first church I went to was a disaster. I walked in through a crowd of people, smiled and nodded shyly as I went through the foyer to the chapel. I found a seat in a pew near the back and looked around. I was nervous but excited about what this new church might have to offer.
I sat at the edge of the pew while other parishioners stared and whispered. I looked around for a friendly face but could find none. I was in the church for about 15 minutes before I got so uncomfortable I got up and left.
In those 15 minutes, no one said a word to me. No one welcomed me, no one said hello, not one word was sent in my direction. It was incredibly nerve-racking. I was so shook-up, it took me another 6 months before I even tried going to church again.
Imagine if I had been someone new to attending church. Imagine if I was someone who really needed to turn their life around and was looking to the church for help. Would that person give the church a second chance after an experience like that? As the saying goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
The New Kid in Class
Going to a new church feels like being the new kid in class. People stare at you and whisper. “Who’s the new kid?” You aren’t quite sure where to sit. You don’t know the ins and outs of the service at this church. Do they do offerings before or after the sermon? Does the pastor welcome feedback? What songs, prayers, and affirmations are said at each service? If you are unfamiliar with one of the affirmations or prayers will you be looked down upon?
I love the Lord and the community and fellowship attending church brings, so after those six months, I gave it another go. Thankfully, I found a wonderful church where the members made me feel at home from the first service I attended. They said hello and invited me to sit with them. They showed me the extra hymnal and how to tell which hymnal I was supposed to be using when. They guided me through the service and invited me to participate in church events. It was so wonderful and I thank God every day for leading me to this church.
Loving, not Judging
So I beg of you fellow Christians, please try to be less judgmental and more welcoming to the newcomers to your church. If you see someone new at church don’t stare at them and whisper to your neighbor “Who is that?” If they walk in wearing jeans and boots, don’t judge them for not dressing up, in the same way, don’t judge the woman who walks in wearing a tight dress and pounds of makeup. You don’t know these people yet; they have walked into your church seeking God and fellowship. Instead of judging and whispering about them, walk over to them and welcome them. Invite them to sit with you, introduce them to your neighbors and help them through the service.
We all know about the Bible verse “Judge not lest ye be judged” (Matthew 7:1 KJV) but more important are all of the verses about how to treat your neighbor. Mark 12:30-31 (NIV) reads “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”. These people who have wandered into your church are neighbors! Love them, and welcome them into your church.
So if you see a new person sitting quietly at the back of the church, please say “hello”. Invite them to sit with you, and explain the service to them. You may save someone’s eternal soul.