Many of my non-Christian friends uphold better moral standards than I did before I had faith. Sometimes they even accept our (not-so) casual invitations to church and although they might entertain the idea of God, the unwillingness to conform to the alien moral codes of church etiquette can be enough to put them off coming back.
Recently one of my closest friends gave her life to God and became involved in church life. Surfing and an over-obsession with the gym was the way she filled her life – her week quickly became one of endless church courses, dinners, coffees.
As a new Christian, there seemed to be an invisible cut-off point where she was suddenly expected to naturally discern how to behave in church, how to worship appropriately and interpret Christian lingo. We expect people to be instantly washed clean from past experiences and to have magically detangled everything that held them down in their previous lives.
Ultimately we aren't prepared to get our hands dirty. We forget that the journey that new Christians make is a dual walk – one where they know Jesus for themselves – and one in which they get their heads around the concept of church – different to anything they have experienced before.
We are prepared for a bit of dirt as they walk through this passage but we would much prefer it if they wiped up after themselves. That they didn't run around making a scene, breaking our expensive church china.
A real life example
Last week, before the service started, one of the young leaders in church told me she'd been chatted up in a bar and instead of giving this guy her number, she'd invited him to church, expecting it to be a thoroughly efficient way of getting rid of the unwanted interest. Diligently and unwaveringly, the guy was early to church that weekend, and to her surprise seemed genuinely interested in something more than just checking out the pretty, young leader.
However, word had got round that this girl had an admirer of sorts and immediately the church eyebrows of disapproval were raised when he mentioned he occasionally went to church already. He'd been tarred with the brush of 'not-a-real-Christian' and he 'shouldn't-be-doing–that-kind-of-thing' attitude. Was he welcomed? Well people were polite yes, but not open, not welcoming in the way church should be.
Why does church have to be a system of moral codes, where Christians cross the threshold and seem to be more shocked inside the building than out? Is it because we are scared of how we really behave when we are not in those porcelain-plated four walls and so by presenting a perfect side of ourselves and tut-tutting others for their lack of church etiquette makes us feel like we are doing something right in our own walk with God.
The church can encourage and grow a new Christian in their walk with Jesus, but struggle with encouraging them in their accompanying love of the church.
I am struggling still with my own 'protect-the-china' and 'wrap-in-cotton wool' mentality. I want to be the matador, waving the red flag, with the bull running straight for me, ready to crash head on.
Originally from The Lake District in the UK, Amanda works in Publishing in Auckland and is passionate about seeing Christians bring salt and light into the media, arts and creative industries. She is a member of SALT (www.saltmedia.co.nz) and Artisan Initiatives (www.artisaninitiatives.org). She is also a youth leader at a church in West Auckland and is involved in Christian Surfers www.christiansurfers.org.nz.