Jesus, Lover of the Unaccepted: Youth Perceptions of Acceptance in Their Church

During Jesus’ time on Earth, He had a seemingly magnetic appeal to the outcasts of society. When He encountered a Samaritan woman gathering water in the middle of the day, He sat and talked to her (John 4). She was not only a pariah from Jewish society (because Jews and Samaritans did not interact), but was also ostracized from those in her own society. However, instead of shunning her, Jesus asked her for a drink. Before they were done, she had drunk deeply of the Living Water that Jesus offered her.

Jesus also interacted with the sinners of society. We see through His life that He interacted with prostitutes (Luke 7:36-50), lepers (Matthew 8:1-4), and tax collectors and sinners of all kinds (Mark 2:15-17. As long as the person came to Jesus with a willing heart, He was willing to accept and welcome them with open arms.

Acceptance is a key piece to making people feel welcome at our churches; many come in the doors each week with deep wounds, hidden on the inside under forced smiles and “Sabbath clothes.” Many are simply looking for love and healing – a place to belong. Unfortunately, our youth tend to be easy targets when it comes to passing judgment.

However, there’s good news!  During a 2014 study conducted by the Institute for Church Ministry, youth were asked how accepted they feel by their local church bodies; 83% of the youth surveyed said that they felt accepted by their church.

Only 10% of the youth surveyed said that they did not feel accepted. While it is good that so few youth feel unaccepted, it is important to not feel as though this is “good enough.” Just as Jesus sought to reach each and every person that He came into contact with, it should be our goal to reach out to every person who comes in the doors of our churches.

So then, what lessons can we learn from the Jesus’ interaction with the outcasts of His day? 

  1. Outcasts wanted to be around Jesus. Everywhere Jesus went, He attracted those who needed His love and healing. For many, this healing was physically manifested; for others, it was spiritual or emotional healing. In your own church, how can you be more approachable to the youth who may be broken? How can you show the “outsiders” the same love that Jesus offered?
  2. Sinners were receptive to the message Jesus was sharing, and Jesus was excited to spend time teaching them.  Just because a young person shows up at church each week does not mean that they know Jesus. How can you personally invest in the young people in your congregation? How can you make yourself approachable to them? How can you share Bible truths with their searching hearts? 
  3. Jesus forgave those who repented. Most importantly, Jesus forgave the sins of those who repented. How can you help lead those who are searching to a personal relationship with Jesus? This may mean a long-term investment – not just one or two Bible studies. Are you ready for this kind of commitment?

Jesus loved and poured into all those around Him. In the same way, we should seek to emulate His love and caring to those who feel unaccepted or unloved in our churches.

Image from Canva©.

Author: ICM

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