The very first church that I served as pastor was a new mission church along the Mississippi River. Fort Adams was a tiny fishing village in the southwest corner of Mississippi, about an hour's drive north of Baton Rouge, La.
The forests around Fort Adams were full of deer, but only a few humans. There was a Catholic church in the town but no Protestant church within 20 miles.
The Baptists in the county seat town of Woodville decided that Fort Adams needed a church. They bought a frame house, set it up on property they owned in Fort Adams and opened a little mission church. They called me to be the pastor.
To begin a new congregation, I got volunteers to help me canvass the area and meet the residents. We found lots of outdoorsmen, many living in hunting camps. So we decided to dress very informally for worship, so that the local people would feel comfortable. Instead of a suit and tie, I wore blue jeans and a clean shirt for the very first service. Nearly 50 people came to that first service, some who had not been to church in many years.
One man who came to that first service will always stand out in my mind. We'll call him “Mr. Ed” (not his real name). He was a small, elderly man, who lived by himself next door to the new church. He was a Christian, but he had no car and no family to drive him to church. He was so excited to have a new church in walking distance.
Mr. Ed didn’t have many dress clothes, but he found an old suit to wear, so that he would look nice for church. His fingers barely stuck out of the arm sleeves of his suit coat, and his pants legs drug the ground, but he didn't mind. He was proud to look nice in the Lord's house.
On Monday, Mr. Ed was at the store in Fort Adams (there was only one store), and somebody asked him how he liked the new Baptist church. He said, “I liked it mighty fine, but I felt sorry fer the preacher, ’cause he didn’t have nuttin’ to wear but overalls!”
Sometimes people aren’t what they seem in church. Unfortunately, too often people judge others in church by outward appearances. James 2:1-4 warns against treating a rich man better if he comes into the church wearing fine clothes. When the prophet Samuel was about to overlook young David as a future king because he was too small, God reminded him, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7, NIV).
The next time you see somebody in church who doesn’t fit your idea of how a Christian is supposed to look, ask God to help you see past the overalls or tattoo or ill-fitting clothes or whatever it may be, and see into his or her heart.