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It’s happened a few times: for no apparent reason, a number of new people start attending the church. I wish I could explain it or take credit for it, but God simply seems to do it, not always connected to all the initiatives we run to reach our community.

And when these new people arrive, they sometimes come messy. I’d argue we all come messy; some of us just hide it better. Some are going through a significant crisis. Others have exhausted themselves running away from God. Some of them come put together, of course, but more than a few arrive with scars and wounds.

They arrive as bruised reeds.

It’s significant that we ended up starting our church in a position of weakness. I’d planned to begin from a position of strength, leveraging my years of experience. Instead, we started in the most difficult year of our lives. I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone, but it grew a conviction in our hearts about the kind of church we wanted to be: a church that knew how to welcome bruised reeds and smoldering wicks.

Most rulers smash the weak. Not Jesus.

I’m speaking, of course, of Isaiah’s words, “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench” (Isaiah 42:3). Matthew claims that these words were fulfilled by Jesus as he healed the sick quietly (Matthew 12:20). Jesus had a track record of welcoming those that others turned away and healing them, even when nobody was looking.

Most rulers smash the weak. Not Jesus. “He is so far from smashing the mighty that he will not even break off the reed that is bent over and cracked. Rather, he will support it and straighten it,” writes John Oswalt. “He will not even puff out the most dimly guttering lamp wick (smoldering wick). Rather, he will trim it and rest it more deeply in the oil.”

I get the language of getting the wrong people off the bus, but Jesus didn’t seem to operate that way. He got the bruised and incompetent people on the bus and used them so it was clear that no mere human could take credit. I’ve watched the same as God often moved through the lives of people I would have bypassed, and has also bypassed the people I would have picked.

I used to laugh at the Bible’s description of David’s band of supporters. “And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became commander over them” (1 Samuel 22:2). It sounds so familiar, like the kind of people who gather at churches I know. They’re not the people I would have chosen, but they’re often the people that God does. I’ve grown to love the church of misfits and lost hopes, because I’ve seen what God can do through churches like these.

One of our great missionary opportunities these days is to be a church for bruised reeds. There are many of them around us, and God seems to love them and use them. A ministry that welcomes them reflects the heart of Christ for those who’ve lost hope.

“Everybody else would quench us but Christ,” preached Spurgeon. Because he doesn’t break bruised reeds or snuff out smoldering wicks, neither should we. He welcomes them, and we should too.