Why Inclusion is Different from Acceptance

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“We accept everyone at our church.”

Have you ever heard someone say that? The modern church has made great strides in this area. We make the Bible available in numerous translations to make it easier to understand. We share our service times so that anyone can attend and put out signs on Sunday mornings. We are quick to acknowledge that everyone is welcome into the church building. “Come as you are!” we say. “We have a space for you.”

However, when we look a little closer, we can see that everyone who is accepted into the church does not automatically feel included. What if, for example, the space we have created for new visitors to our church services does not fit their needs because of a physical or intellectual disability? There may be no rule that keeps them from the church, but there are barriers all the same.

What if the Bible, in all of its versions, is still inaccessible because a person speaks English as a second language? What if a person cannot face a normal church service because the music and lights are too overwhelming for their senses? What if “come as you are” is in a wheelchair, and the church building does not have accessible sidewalks, pews, or restrooms?

To accept someone is to acknowledge them, to recognize how they are different, and to say that it is okay. Acceptance is good! But it’s not the whole story.

To include someone is to intentionally pursue ways to make them feel welcomed, heard, and valued. We show the love of Jesus most when we actively include those who are marginalized and different.

How is your ministry doing at including everyone? It may be time to make some changes. Jesus was the best at including others: tax collectors and sinners, prostitutes, lepers, blind men, and little children—all the people on the edges of his society. Can we do any less? Let’s go actively seek out and bring in—and truly include!—people of all abilities.

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Acceptance and Inclusion have to be a two way experience.

Saying “I don’t know about your culture” is not an even exchange.

Let’s not forget the early church was inclusive.