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Central: It's Different Here

By:
Carl Ruby

It’s different here.

I recently met with a person named Brad who is new to Central. He came up to me several years ago at a brewery and asked me if our church welcomed atheists. I said something to the effect of “Heck yeah, the more, the better.” Brad isn’t an atheist himself, and I think his core question was really whether or not a person who doesn’t necessarily hold to a traditional set of Christian beliefs could be honest about that and still feel welcomed and included here. This was a great question. A really great question because it gets to the core of who Jesus is and how he treats people. 

Jesus is pretty inclusive, and I think we should be, too. Very few people reject Christianity because they check out Jesus and don’t really like him. Instead, I think people reject Christianity because sometimes we’ve taken Jesus out of it. Time after time, I’ve met people who are very leery about attending church and admit they were very attracted to Christ’s teachings and examples. 

A few months ago, Brad began showing up on Sunday mornings for our worship service. Since then, he has become a good friend and a great sounding board for me. He’s not into religious labels and usually doesn’t use the word Christian to define himself, but in many ways, his life reminds me of Jesus, particularly his devotion to the marginalized.  

We’ve got a couple of people like Brad in our congregation, and it thrills me not only that they are here but also that they feel fully included in our church family. Though they may not completely buy into all aspects of Christianity in the same way that I do, they are patterning their lives after Christ’s example and teachings, and I think that’s a great place to start. Perhaps some of their views on a few of Christianity’s core beliefs will change, and perhaps they won’t. Either way, I want them to feel fully loved and valued here. I think the church needs to shift its emphasis from converting people, to drawing people closer to Jesus wherever they may be on the continuum of belief. Conversion is God’s job. Ours is to reflect Jesus to the best of our ability.

A few weeks ago, Brad showed up at my office, and when I asked him how he felt about attending Central he observed, “It’s different here.” When I probed what he meant, he referenced the fact that he felt very welcomed and included even though he didn’t share all of our beliefs. Then he said, “You guys ought to make that your slogan, “We’re different!” I probed what he meant, and since then, I’ve been trying to put words to the differences Brad observed at Central. 

As Brad left, he said, “I think there are lots of people like me looking for a church like this.” As the pastor here, I sure hope so. We need people who don’t necessarily share all of our beliefs and I have no doubt that Christ would give them a warm welcome. In the next ten posts, I will reflect on ten ways we seek to be a different kind of church.

*I want to thank Brad Zitzner for reading and approving this post. I initially wrote it anonymously, but after discussing it with him, he said, “Feel free to use my name.” I’m doing so in the hope that if you run into Brad, you can ask him whether or not people like you would be welcome at Central, and hopefully, he will respond, “Heck yeah, the more, the better.’

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