About a year ago, Ike and I began attending a church that we now love. It’s been a wonderful home for our family, and we’ve been blessed to be a part of the community.
The anniversary of our joining the church kind of snuck up on me. For an entire year, we’ve thought of ourselves as “the new people.” Whenever someone asked us, “Have you met so and so?” we’d always defer to our status as newcomers, explaining that there are still a lot of people we had not yet met.
(Bear in mind, this isn’t a mega-church. There aren’t thousands of people to meet.)
But the reality is, it’s been a year. We are not the new people anymore. We haven’t been the new people for quite some time. Maybe we’re new compared to the charter members who founded the church, but it’s not like we joined last month. We’ve been around. We know a thing or two.
When I finally woke up to this reality, I realized something:
The new person identity is a spiritual sand trap. People get stuck there, and they can’t get out. As long as they keep thinking of themselves as new, it will affect their sense of belonging, and their service to the church—Where there is no belonging there is no ownership; where there is no ownership there is no responsibility; and where there is no responsibility, there is no service.
In hindsight, I fell into that sand trap. In fact, I’ve been living there for quite some time now. And as I examined why I was stuck, I could put my finger on two reasons.
The first is pure consumerism. When you’re brand new, there is a phase in which it is ok to sit and observe. You’re figuring things out, and that’s ok.
But that phase should be relatively short, especially once you’ve decided to attend regularly. I, on the other hand, didn’t want to let go of that phase. For me, it was an excuse to hide behind, to keep me from putting myself out there and making the sacrifices that my church really needs.
So that’s the first reason for clinging to my new person status. The second was this:
I didn’t feel accepted.
Now let me be clear. It’s not that my church failed to welcome us. They embraced us with open arms!
But I think that’s what Satan does–he whispers messages of doubt. He makes you feel forever on the outside. He makes you question your belonging. He makes you wonder if you will ever have the same close relationships as the ones you see around you.
And as a result, I became so preoccupied with feeling accepted that I failed to welcome those who truly were new.
My Sunday mornings typically consist of me talking to people I already know, trying to strengthen those relationships further, rather than scanning the lobby for a new face, for a person who looks lost or confused.
That’s how the Enemy uses that lingering question. As long as my heart keeps asking, “Am I accepted? Do I belong?” I am paralyzed from accepting others, from helping others belong.
Because, after all, who am I to welcome others if I myself do not feel welcome?
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this struggle and its fruits, and the Holy Spirit has reminded me of something critically important:
I AM accepted.
I am accepted, not just by my church, but I am forever and always accepted by Christ. Romans 15:7 tells us:
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
Even if my church failed to accept me, even if my family and friends failed too, that would not change my status as someone who has been accepted, as someone who belongs.
If I am looking for a place of acceptance, out of which I can reach out to others who feel unaccepted, I already have it.
When I go to church, I don’t need to cling to the familiar in order to feel accepted. Instead, I can invite others into the acceptance I have in Christ.
When I go to a Christian conference, I don’t have to surround myself with only those faces I know. I can seek out individuals who are alone, just as Christ sought me.
And I don’t have to wait for someone to invite me to their home, birthday party, shower, or dinner party in order to participate in community. I can welcome people into my own home, just as God welcomes me.
I don’t know if everyone struggles with feeling accepted like I do. But for me, this is a struggle that has hindered my mission. Insecurities and doubts keep the focus off of God, off of others, and on ourselves. That’s why it’s important to identify them.
As Romans 15:7 reminds us, acceptance is connected to worship. At some core level we desire to belong, so belonging inspires praise.
As we stand firm on our acceptance in Christ, and invite others into that acceptance as well, we come one step closer to living out the worshipful life for which we were created.
That’s why that tiny little question, as insignificant as it sounds, matters quite a lot.
And God has an answer.