Pastor John Burke wrote an incredible book titled No Perfect People Allowed. In it he said, "Creating a culture where people are free to be themselves, warts and all, is the soil in which God's Spirit causes growth."
One day Jesus turned to a group of new believers and said, "If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. Then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you." (John 8:31-32 Msg)
Did you notice what Jesus said? He said if you remain - stick with it - then freedom would come. Jesus didn't promise freedom immediately. But He did say it would come if they just stuck with it. This means that we in the Church should lay aside our mechanical "quick fix" paradigms and adopt an agricultural "patient growth" paradigm. Creating the proper "soil in which God's Spirit causes growth" takes time. People take time. Nobody instantly experiences perfect freedom.
I think too often we as Christians get in the way of the Holy Spirit being able to do a thorough work in the hearts of hurting people. We naively assume it's our job to "fix" them. This wrong assumption communicates to people God will not accept them "as is." Most of the unchurched assume they will not be accepted until they change, not by God and definitely not by church people. Consequently many people reject the God of Christianity not realizing the god they associate with Christ is not the Jesus we read about in the Bible. The fact is, we as the Church are too often getting in the way of the freedom we claim to give.
Our church's leadership team desired to get out of the way and create a soil that allowed God's Spirit to do a deep work in the lives of people. We wanted to introduce the broken and hurting to the Jesus who was called "the friend of sinners." It meant creating a come as you are culture where unchurched people would love to attend. It was our thought that if they loved attending they would stay long enough for the truth of the Word to set them free. This would require repeatedly communicating to our church that this is not a place to put on your churchy-face to mask your problems. It was a place where No Perfect People Were Allowed. When we pretend we're perfect - we're stuck. But when we allow each other to be works-in-progress, we all find the support we need to authentically grow and change. We needed to put away the facades and just be real. And I realized very quickly, that this authenticity needed to begin with me as the leader.
I must warn you, however, creating a come as you are culture comes with a cost. We would be accused of greasy grace, of compromising the gospel by well meaning Christians. But it's not a compromise that allows any sort of behavior in the church and we weren't turning a blind eye to sin. We simply were making a choice to love, accept, and forgive those who were on the trajectory towards freedom. It's choosing to err on the side of grace because we are all in need of God's grace. We remind ourselves often that it was our job is to simply lead people to Christ and it's His job to transform them.
How's your soil? How would people define the "feel" of your church? Is it a place where the hurting can comfortably "stick with it" until they are changed?