The journey to inclusion is the road less traveled. It’s a road I didn’t even see until I had my own wrestling match with God. I’d been traveling a safer road of ministry. This safe road led me to teens who were like me, where I challenged students and didn’t allow them to challenge me. This was a road with no room for detours or curves. When I realized the road of exclusion I was on was a dead end, it broke me. All along I thought God led me to this safe road and that on it I would experience successful youth ministry. But the heart of God was leading me to a different road, the road of inclusion. See the safe road I was traveling before avoided dangerous students, neglected hurting students, and was afraid of students who didn’t match the Christian profile.
Exclusion may be safe but it leads to dead ends. The road of inclusion starts deep within the heart of individuals who want to be shaped by Jesus and demonstrate love that stands with people, no matter who they are, where they’re from, how old, or who they love.
Here are 4 key consistencies I’ve witnessed in people who live with a passion to include and not exclude.
They experience God’s love through individuals who challenge their personal beliefs or preference.
Inclusion and acceptance cannot exist where the desire to be right usurps the desire to love as God loves.
They don’t just tolerate some people. They celebrate all people.
Tolerating diversity is not the same thing as celebrating the individuals that make us diverse. When we see people as God sees them, there is much to celebrate.
The Bible is not used to hold people hostage by their personal interpretation of scripture.
The Bible serves as witness of God’s active love for all people through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Interpretation too easily becomes a way of holding people hostage where they should be held by the grace and love of God. Biblical interpretation led a man to verbally attack me at church because of his belief that scripture declares women should not have short hair. Inclusive ministry cherishes the word because it is a love story, not because it supports their views.
They love generously, not sparingly.
Jesus loved generously and gave himself to the diseased, widowed, abandoned, poor and lost. We simply do not see Jesus loving sparingly because he was more righteous than everyone on earth. Inclusive people love generously, sparing the love of Jesus for nothing.
Inclusion exists where hearts are shaped by Jesus. Jesus who prayed, “God, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The will of God is to love.
In the presence of his love we find ourselves complete. We’ve mistaken healing and deliverance as the result of his love complete. And so we first seek to heal and deliver people. But the real miracle Jesus gave was himself. Before Jesus did a miracle he first willingly and lovingly stood with those no one else would stand with.
He stood with the leper, and then he was healed. (Matthew 8)
He stood with the women at the well, and then she believed. (John 4)
He stood with Lazarus in the stench of his death, and then he brought him back to life. (John 11)
Who are we willing to stand with?