I pulled up to a local convenience store and saw a young man with long hair and tattoos standing up against a post. He looked downtrodden, so I asked him how he was doing. He responded, “Not very well.” I asked him what was wrong and whether there was something I could pray with him about. He told me that he was down on his luck and a recovering alcoholic. I prayed with him and asked whether he was attending church. He said that he had been attending a church where he felt welcome, loved, and supported but that he no longer attends services there.
I asked him why he left that church. “Well, I have to be honest; I left because I started drinking again. I went on a binge and drank for about three months.” After the binge, he ceased drinking and returned to church one Sunday morning. When he returned, he was honest with the pastor and some of the church members about the reason for his absence. The pastor and many of the members then started treating him far differently than they had before his absence. He began to be ignored by the very people who had made him feel welcome, loved, and supported. He further shared that he overheard some people saying bad things about him. He returned to that church believing that Christians would treat him in the same manner they had before, but he was sadly mistaken. He said he left that day understanding why some people label Christians as hypocrites.
This young man went on to share with me that a couple of weeks after he had left the church for the second time, a gentleman from another church approached him and invited him to attend his church. He said the man handed him a business card with his church address on it and said, “Get a haircut, and come visit us.” I told the young man that I was sorry he had experienced such treatment from self-proclaimed Christians, and I assured him that the behavior he had been subjected to was far from Christlike. I told him that Jesus loves him just as he is—long hair, tattoos, and all.
After hearing this man’s story, I invited him to attend the church I attend and assured him he would feel welcome, loved, and supported because, as it says in Romans, we all sin and fall short of God’s glory. He thanked me for praying with him and inviting him to church but said that he did not think he would be going to church anywhere anytime soon and that, to be honest, he may never visit another church. I responded to him by saying, “I pray you change your mind, and remember you are always welcome at the church I attend.” I purchased what I needed in the store and returned to my vehicle heartsick that there are Christians out in the world treating people in the manner this young man had been treated.
The Bible tells the story of a woman caught in the act of adultery. The truth is, she was not the only one caught in the act of adultery. Jesus addressed those who were willing and ready to stone the woman to death before He ever spoke a word to her. And when He did address the woman, Jesus did so in had been attending a church where he felt welcome, loved, and supported but that he no longer attends services there.
When we hear of treatment such as this young man experienced, we may cry out, “Terrible!” Yet, if the prophet Nathan were around, he may well look at your church and declare, “Thou art the man” (2 Sam. 12:7, KJV). We can treat persons according to our feelings or according to Jesus’ model. Our choice to reach out, or not, has eternal consequences. Inasmuch as we do it to the least of God’s children, we do it to Him.