The other day as I sat with friends who had a small child I noticed the child’s shape sorter and thought, Church is like that shape sorter – but broken.
Everyone is different. This is obvious but the Bible is very clear that this is not chance or the result of sin, but is the way God designed it, this is the way the universe is meant to be. We all know what Bible passages such as Romans 12:4-8 make quite clear, that we need it to be that way, we need diversity. This is true in any group of people but for the church it is vitally important, not just for those inside but for those outside.
The church is God’s family of believers and we need to be able to accept anyone and everyone – as St. Peter discovered with Cornelius at Caesarea (Acts 10), it is not up to us who to accept or reject. I love his words in Acts 11:17, “So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”
The church should be God’s shape sorter – people of all shapes can come and find a way in that is made just for the way they are, and in this way they can feel welcomed to God’s world. Unfortunately that shape sorter is largely broken – only the square hole is open! The other holes are in varying degrees blocked. Worse than that – we the church have done it to ourselves!
The problem is that the church and its individual congregations easily become institutionalised. Those inside expect everyone to enter by the square hole, and so people wanting to share in our life with God feel compelled to squeeze themselves into that square shape to get in and, once in, try to hide their real nature.
I confess now that it’s not an original illustration, I think I picked it up from the “Eternal Echoes” blog some time ago, but it has stuck with me and grown because ultimately I think it expresses a very powerful truth.
I think this simple analysis is also an important one. It explains why many people who stray onto the margins of our gatherings never enter further. It explains a lot of tensions within the church – almost everyone inside it is squashing themselves, bending themselves, trying to look and act the same – square shaped.
We do this partly in fear that we will be looked down on or ridiculed if people see what we are really like, partly because we come to believe that our difference from others is because we are “bad Christians”. And trying to be something you are not is never a good thing. Our young people, who are exuberantly differently-shaped, and proud of it, feel increasingly pressured to be a shape they are not and ultimately give up and leave us, often never to return.
Tensions within the church are often just a public expression of the tensions of a people who are trying to be all the same shape and failing. It is time to give in. and celebrate our differences. If the Christian sitting next to you has very different points of view from you, or a different lifestyle, that is the glory of God’s creation, the glory of his kingdom which isn’t one where everyone has to conform. If you are a star or a triangle, be one proudly and love those who aren’t!