Within the body of Christ there are very many different personalities – after all, our Creator made us each individuals, each with our unique gifts and characteristics. Many humans bear similarities, but no two are completely alike.
We, as Christians, are in a sense “called out” of this world and set apart for a life of service to God and others. God tells us in His word, the Bible, that we are to serve Him not only individually, but as a community of believers, His church – the body of Christ. There is only one body, but many different communities. There is only one body, but many different elements and functions within that body.
Church congregations are very interesting in the amount of personal authenticity that they allow. This is a cultural aspect which sometimes, I believe, follows the prompting of the Holy Spirit rather than being orchestrated by leaders. What I mean by personal authenticity is the ability of an individual to be real about their past, their struggles, their state of mind and their walk with God.
Too many people are into the mindset of putting on their best clothes and happiest mask for church on Sunday. Naturally, to do otherwise is to be vulnerable, to risk offence and hurt and to perhaps end up feeling even more isolated. But on the other hand there may be genuine listeners and pray-ers out there who will come alongside and encourage.
God calls us out of the world, and in my thirty-something years in a few different church congregations, I’ve become aware of some, who, for one reason or another, seem to be called out of the church. Let me elaborate- I do not mean that God calls anyone to leave and cease attending churches. On the contrary the writer of Hebrews warns “ Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:25. No, the people I am talking about are those who, even in a church congregation, are almost set apart from others by their differences.
These differences may be easily observed, such as a physical or mental disability. A person may be of a different race or ethnic background. Or the differences may be more internalised. A person may have spent their entire life feeling guarded and marginalised because of family circumstances, addictions and secrets.
I believe that this is part of the message in the phrase “Many are called but few are chosen” in Matthew 22. The wedding feast is shared with the outcasts. God in His wisdom does not see people in quite the same way as the world. He loves the broken. He uses the marginalised. He takes those who feel dirty and shameful on the inside and says to them “You’re transformed. You’re washed clean. You’re my bride.” Throughout the gospels we see Jesus being approached by those who were regarded as the dross of society. They never left without being changed, healed, and used by Him to spread the good news.
It’s no small thing to feel set apart in a church. A friend of mine spent many years praying that her son would find one good friend within a church congregation. Despite their prayers and his efforts, he found it very difficult to socialise and did not have a genuine friend. Yet I believe that through this experience that young man will clearly know Jesus as a steadfast friend and will be a mentor to young men further down the track.
Another lady I know was abandoned by her husband and has struggled to raise her children in difficult circumstances, including church hurt which has made her wary of trusting others. Yet she continually testifies to the provision and presence of Jesus in her life, is faithfully attending church services and has a strong evangelical heart for the unsaved.
I know a number of disabled young people who, even in churches, feel isolated. Yet God gives them a sense of His presence and often this is accompanied by a deep sense of their own worth. They need it.
Blessed are those church congregations that strive to be inclusive, that have folk who look out for the ones who don’t fit easily. We all like to feel we belong and have friends.
And very blessed indeed are those who have come to the realisation that they can hold their head high, walk into a crowded auditorium, sit anywhere and chat to whoever and not care particularly much whether they are accepted or rejected by the crowd – because the King of Kings and Lord of Lords is their Saviour, friend, Counsellor and guide. Their worth is found in Him.
“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” John 15:15