In a 1987 speech President Ronald Reagan called upon the Russian leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, to tear down the wall that divided Berlin, Germany. In 1990 the dismantling of the wall began with West Germans free to cross over into East Germany. Although it took two years for the wall to be completely removed, Berliners were free to move back and forth throughout their city for the first time since 1961.
Walls are meant to separate and divide people. Some walls are good and appropriate such as those found in a house. Our houses allow us privacy and protection, and both are good things. Other walls, such as the Berlin wall, are not good when they prevent people from enjoying the freedoms they deserve.
Not all walls are visible, and some of the most destructive walls are the invisible ones we create to isolate ourselves from others. A person struggling with depression may create such barriers to keep others at arm's length. At a time when we need other people the most we sometimes shut them out with these invisible barriers.
Churches also build invisible walls that determine who is allowed in and who is kept out. Of course, with few exceptions, we do not intentionally try to keep people out, but often our man-made rules and behaviors often do just that. A friend of mine told me years ago that she finally convinced her husband to attend church with her. Everything went well until after the service when a member informed him that he would be expected to wear a suit the next time he came back. He never returned. Yes, I know that was in another time, and that would seldom happen today, but we still have those artificial barriers that keep people out of our churches. More importantly, they keep people away from God.
In a doctoral class I took we were challenged to identify the walls that surround our churches and tear them down to allow people in. The professor insisted that every church has such walls. Even though we may not know they exist, they are there, and we would do well to identify and remove them. He pointed out that we don't have to worry about how to grow our churches. If we just remove the walls our churches will grow, and, more importantly, people will find God. The cross of Jesus Christ should be the only stumbling block people have to encounter in their search for God.
If our churches want to impact their communities we not only need to remove the walls that are keeping people out, we need to build bridges into our communities to invite people in. The tearing down of the walls and the building of bridges both involve intentionality on the part of the churches.
What walls exist in your church that are keeping people out? How much longer will you allow them to stand?