What comes to your mind when I say the word, “Christian”?
Of all the images you might see, I don’t think it’s a poor beggar or a crude gangster covered in tattoos. For me, I see a well-dressed person who speaks good English and comes from a well-to-do family.
That’s the stereotypical Singaporean Christian to me. I don’t know what yours looks like, but mine tells me a lot about the type of people my spiritual community is attracting – as well as the folks we’re missing out on.
Where are these other folks who don’t really fit the stereotype?
Recently, I overheard a conversation about how young Mandarin-speaking Christians face difficulty finding their place among the Christian youth congregation. The issue is that they usually end up joining the Chinese congregation, which mostly consists of older generation Christians.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but I do wonder: Are we making room for people who don’t fit the typical Christian mould? Are we making room for people who aren’t like us?
In Luke 19, we read about a man named Zacchaeus. He was hated by the Jews because he was a tax collector for the oppressive Romans. Yet instead of avoiding Zacchaeus like the other teachers, Jesus singled him out and said: “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”
Elsewhere in the Bible too, we see Jesus dining with sinners and outcasts. I’m not saying that those who don’t fall into the Christian stereotype are just like the sinners and socially marginalised of Jesus’ time. My point is that Jesus welcomed all people – especially those starkly different from Himself.
He ate with them. He met them at where they were comfortable. Are we extending the same welcome to people in our society who are different from us? Are we meeting them at where they are at?
I’ve written previously about megachurches and extravagance. And while I maintain that there’s no cost too great when it comes to getting souls into the Kingdom, we need to consider if we’re retaining people as much as we’re attracting them.
There’s no point in spending money to reach out to people if we can’t even keep them.
I believe the responsibility lies on Church members to enfold newcomers. We can have the best smiles on the usher team, the best worship team leading, and the best preacher in town, but if we don’t have an inclusive community – people are bound to leave.
Are we making room for people who don’t necessarily fit our idea of what a Singaporean Christian looks like?
“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” (Romans 15:7)
The root word of “accept” is to receive. It means to receive each other into our hearts and lives. Would you consider developing a relationship with the beggar? Would you build a friendship to the mentally-unstable woman on the bus?
We find it difficult to accept people who are different from us, because the way they behave or look tends to be different from what we’re used to. For example, we might frown at someone who comes into Church wearing slippers and shorts because we believe in wearing your Sunday Best. It’s always easier to criticise than to think with empathy – those might be his best clothes!
Of course, I have people in my life who I don’t know how to get along with. We can’t quite connect and it gets awkward a lot. Left to my own devices – I would rather avoid them altogether.
But when I’m tempted to do so, I remind myself that God has called me to a life of humility. I don’t have to be their best friend, but I must love them – I am commanded to do so.This is what humility looks like in the Word.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
It is to value someone over yourself. It is emptying ourselves of our preferences in order to welcome everyone into our life – just like how Christ emptied Himself to come to earth so we can go to heaven (Philippians 2:5-8).
And it doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple putting yourself in the other party’s shoes to meet his needs. I know of a friend who refuses to wear branded clothes whenever he goes to Church. “I don’t want visitors to feel pressurised to dress a certain way when they come to Church,” he told me.
It’s a small initiative – but a worthy start. What are we personally doing to make the Church a home for everyone?
Do you avoid people who are different? We might think that all is good as long as we aren’t in conflicts. But that’s a pretty low standard. Jesus commanded us to go beyond that: He commanded us to love our neighbours (Mark 12:31).
Love takes place in a relationship. It is to look past differences to know one another as we really are. If we look beyond the “differences,” we might just see we’re not all that different.
We’re all sinners who need their Saviour.