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Sensitive to Sinners

I recall dating a girl long before I met my beloved wife, Joni. I asked her to go to church with me.

She was not a Christian and did not know the "official" rules. She arrived at church wearing a strapless dress that the congregation found scandalous. In her mind she was simply wearing her best dress to church; she had no idea she was doing anything "wrong."

From the moment we walked in, the two of us felt the saints' reproachful laser-beam stares of righteousness drilling into us. Instead of asking God to make my friend's heart receptive to His Word, I spent the service worrying about what this pea-brained congregation thought of me.

The reactions would have been different in a sinner-sensitive church. The sinner-sensitive church (SSC) is my proposal for a new church movement toward making everyone feel welcomed and loved. The SSC would model nonjudgmental attitudes.

Issues such as having tattoos, body piercings and weird hair would not necessarily denote demon possession. The SSC would pledge not to gossip because we would realize that it is only by the grace of God that we are not the current targets. The SSC would value every spiritual, physical and financial gift, no matter how big or small.

The SSC would make it a practice to reach out, touch and care for one another sacrificially because we know that we all fall down in life and in our Christian walks. At the SSC we would have executives holding hands in prayer with laborers and not thinking twice about it. Blacks and whites and Hispanics and others would break bread together because we are all sinners in the eyes of a colorblind God.

The SSC would give freely out of profound gratitude to a God who somehow saw fit to give us an undeserved chance. We would practice the prodigal son ministry, running to welcome those returning from mistakes and bad decisions and sin.

Our members would get involved in other people's lives. We would hold our brothers and sisters accountable to godly standards.

Marriage would be cherished. Families would have a community of support during problems and trials. The congregation of the SSC would not be so self-centered that we would demand the undivided attention of the pastor at every little crisis. Other believers would help meet many of those needs that we now prefer to leave to the "professional Christians" on staff.

The SSC would also delight in the company of other spiritual travelers and make it a priority that no one ever felt alone. We would make one another feel valuable, but on occasion, a little uncomfortable.

Being comfortable in church is not the primary goal. I am not always comfortable at the dentist's office. I often arrive in pain because I have neglected to do what I should have done.

The staff makes me feel welcome and cared for. Then the dentist confronts me with the truth: "You have let this go too long, and I must hurt you (a little) in order to heal you. You will have to pay a financial price and spend time recovering before you are completely well." Those are the facts of my dental hygiene sin.

The SSC church would not back off the truth either. Decay in the enamel or soul must be addressed.

We would tell one another the truth and explain that the process might be a little painful. We would participate in ongoing preventive maintenance and help one another deal with problems as soon as possible, before they became even more painful and expensive to fix.

The SSC would worship with enthusiasm, whether singing hymns or praise choruses, because God is worthy of that praise. The SSC would have a sense of profound reverence because we all have received God's grace, the most amazing gift ever offered. The SSC would be so excited about this grace that the incredible news of the gospel would be as much a part of who we are as our jobs and our families are.

Sinner-sensitive was the ministry style of our Lord. He was always available to people who realized their need.

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