Have you ever felt discounted or ostracized because you did not meet some physical standard of a particular group? Maybe you had the wrong clothes or hair style. Maybe you were obviously of a different economic level, social class or ethnicity. People tend to distrust those who are different.
The saying, Birds of a feather flock together, holds a great deal of truth. Most people naturally gravitate toward those with whom they can identify. Though affirming the similar is a natural tendency, it may be a destructive practice. What happens when a church filled with suits and dresses receives a visit from a guy in jeans and a t-shirt? Will t-shirt man be made to feel welcome or will he get dirty looks and under the breath comments? I have actually heard rumors about a church in Knoxville which turns people away at the door if they are not properly dressed. I am considering a visit there one Sunday...
I am blessed to be part of a ministry where a black t-shirt is basic garb for our events. Metal Mission of Knoxville tries to create an environment where "come as you are" is literal. The danger for us is allowing a certain look or style to become standard and not accept someone who looks more traditional. At our last ministry meeting, I jokingly asked out loud, "what if some guy in a romper shows up?" My comment got a good laugh but... what if?
In the last year, our ministry was contacted by a dear lady in another state who lamented there were no ministries like ours where she lived. This woman felt judged by the local churches because of her background. I thought, surely there must be a local church near her where she could feel welcome. As I began to visit church website after church website I discovered something disturbing, every church displayed photos of upper middle to upper class people enjoying time together. As I looked through the photos each church chose to represent itself, nowhere did I find any indication my friend would be welcomed. To me, the message was clear, "if you look like us, you are welcome."
I know you cannot judge a book by it's cover, but the practice I have observed in many churches and is evident throughout the country on Sunday mornings is people desire to worship with people who look like themselves. Worse, many create a standard of what is acceptable appearance and anyone not meeting the standard is written off as unworthy.
If you attend church, what would the reaction be if a group of bikers or young adults in concert t-shirts showed up Sunday morning? Would they be welcomed and included in fellowship or would they be ignored and avoided?
God is interested in the heart. We have to get passed the outer and focus on the inner. What is the basic thing we all want? Love and acceptance. As Christ's representatives, are we properly demonstrating God's love and desire for individual relationship or are we deeming people worthy of hell because they do not meet our standards?
My Bible has no passages referring to Sunday best attire or the standard appearance for a committed Christian. I love the response I get when I tell someone I am a pastor, especially when I am not dressed for work. My go to garb is jeans and a t-shirt, preferably black, I have tattoos, both my ears are pierced, and my preferred musical style is, of course, Metal. Not exactly standard fare for the average minister.
The point of all this is, we have to look beyond the outer and pursue the inner. Just because someone does not wear a sweater vest or does not dress business casual does not mean they are less intelligent or less in need of love. To many, a tough outer appearance is designed as protection. My original purpose in getting tattooed(when tattoos were still taboo) was to send a message: LEAVE ME ALONE! Not because I was dangerous but because I was insecure.
When we judge someone unworthy of our time or attention because of the way they dress or any other aspect of their physical appearance, we are, in essence, saying, "You don't look like me, so you can go to hell." Your mission today, should you choose to accept it: go out of your way to be friendly to someone you would normally avoid because they look different than you. I am not talking about hit and run evangelism or walking up to a stranger and asking if they know Jesus. Just be friendly and see where it leads.
Act 10:34 Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:
If God is no respecter of persons, how can we, His representatives, disregard those we deem different?
Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!