Do Visitors To Your Church Feel Welcomed?

The Gospel Coalition just published a very interesting article, one which seemed to resonate with at least one friend. The author writes:

Do you make visitors feel conspicuous in the worship service? Stop it. Seriously. Please stop. Some visitors don’t care and will actually appreciate the attention. But many of them will not. This will be a net loss for you.

Click here to see the article.

“Yes, it’s my first time, I admit it!!”

Plenty of times I have been the First-Time Visitor in a church.

Now, I have never minded

  • being identified as a visitor
  • raising my hand
  • standing up
  • wearing a special tag
  • putting on a purple beret
  • being sent through the gauntlet of handshaking
  • being asked to dance a jig, etc.

And here in Costa Rica, people don’t seem to be too put out by being welcomed publically.

However….

Many people do report (I say “report”, because it seems to me that they are reporting, not “complaining”) that those things make them uncomfortable. And I have no reason to believe they are kidding.

So a proper Christian response, an application of Agape 101, perhaps should not be along the lines of, “Hey, it doesn’t bother me, what’s wrong with these people?” nor “What, does being politically-correct mean we can’t even identify visitors now!?”

The Law of Love tells me to treat my neighbor as myself. In this case, in order to put no unnecessary cause of stumbling:

  • I take seriously what others tell me is a burden
  • even if I myself feel comfortable with that thing
  • and to seek another way to make people feel welcomed but not put on the spot.

One other observation: This is one reason why the various city churches of the Church of England are seeing a great uptick in attendance in midweek evening services: “many people are drawn by the formality and relative anonymity of a larger place of worship.” [1] People can slide into the side door and hear the gospel without making a prior commitment to the congregation. It’s an introvert’s dream.

NOTES:

[1] See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/11250990/Sunday-morning-inconvenient-for-church-services-…-says-Church-of-England.html

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So: you love the Church, but are indifferent about the people in it?

“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” 1 John 4:20 NIV

In John’s language, “hate” isn’t necessarily anything so vile as loathing, or despising, or cursing – “hate” is not-love, that which falls short of perfect love. In other words, “Whoever claims to love God yet does not love some brother or sister is a liar.”

We cannot fancy that we love the church as an abstraction, but turn around and fail to love some particular brother; at no time has God allowed that formulation. Only the Trinity can see at a glance the full body of Christ, marching from antiquity to the kingdom; yet even God sees his people always in the concrete, and never as an abstract. We don’t want to be just a number on a page, and God agrees.

For us there is no body of Christ which we are invited to love as an idea, but always and only in the immediate, the concrete, the personal.

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“So: you love the Church, but are indifferent about the people in it?” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

The Emperor Constantine the Great – a villain or a hero, or something in-between?

Download the article as a pdf: Shogren_The Emperor Constantine the Great – a villain or a hero, or something in-between

To many, the Emperor Constantine was a saint: in the Orthodox church he is one of the “Equal-to-Apostles” (isapóstolos) a title given to people (such as Patrick, Cyril the evangelist of Russia and others) who were especially effective in establishing the gospel.

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To others, Constantine is Great was a tool of evil, a corrupter of the church.

The attacks against Constantine come from several quarters. Some Messianic believers imagine that he turned the church into a Gentile movement. Others charge him with introducing pagan practices into the church. Seventh-Day Adventists credit him (or some pope) with changing the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.[1] Jehovah’s Witnesses think he turned Jesus into God, made the cross a symbol of Christianity, and established Easter and Christmas. All of these parties tend to gang up and use the same materials as the basis for their attacks – for example, many anti-Constantine groups hale back to Babylon Mystery Religion – Ancient and Modern, by Ralph Woodrow (1966). And they and Woodrow borrow much of their “information” from Alexander Hislop’s The Two Babylons (1858), another sketchy attempt to connect Catholicism with Babylonian religion.[2] More on this later.

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Who was Constantine? (more…)

Why didn’t I drop out of church?

Post after post announces that young people are leaving the church. I’ve read some good insights on the problems and the solutions.

It makes me ponder: Why didn’t I drop out?

Full disclosure: I first went to church because that’s what the family did; later I came to believe that it was part of my new life and necessary for my growth; then a place where I could minister – the church became my calling and from age 22 and onward I have been in part or full-time ministry. [1]

All to say that, my church didn’t have to try very hard to get my interest. And while in college, church attendance was mandatory anyway.

But why not put all that to one side, because beyond these points, there were “centripetal” forces that pulled me into the church. And I’m going to add in some insights from Facebook friends, who helped me work through this topic.

group1

I was challenged to have a first-hand faith. This factor is frequently mentioned these days (more…)

Why I left party politics…and never looked back

Picture1One of my infrequent thoughts on politics, written before the 2013 government shutdown

It was March 20, 2003. I took a deep breath to steady my nerves. Then I walked out on my political party. I did so principally in protest against President Bush’s attack on Iraq, the culmination of months of public arguments that we must rout out their weapons of mass destruction. With many others, I saw no evidence that there were WMDs. I also had to conclude that two Americans whom I greatly admired, Colin Powell and Condi Rice, had been co-opted to make the case for war when there was no case to be made. I withdrew in my heart that evening, and made it official the next time I renewed my Pennsylvania driver’s license.

I only wish now that I had done it years before. (more…)

Frenemies of Christ

Have you met the guy who says:

Yes, I’m a follower of Jesus, but I’m not a “churcher.” I have fellowship with my Christian friends, we pray together, we talk over coffee, we discuss the Bible, we have a commitment to hold each other accountable. These guys are my “church.” And they are more serious than regular church members about their faith. Doesn’t that fulfill God’s expectation that I meet with other believers? [1]

Church: "EVERY-body's invited!"

Church: “EVERY-body’s invited!”

By all means, get together with other believers. Church is not what you do for an hour on Sunday morning. On the other hand, being the church must include a regular, open meeting with all types of believers who draw together at a predetermined place and time. Meeting with a friend requires a special invitation; everyone is invited to the church meeting.

Sociologists and students of brain chemistry have proven that, no matter how broad-minded we think we are, “like” gravitates to “like”. It’s not in our nature to feel comfortable around people of different personalities or education or politics or level of spiritual zeal, and our brain is hardwired to resist diversity. This is why it’s a constant battle if any group survives without breaking into cliques or splitting up. It’s a miracle, literally, how any church can stick together. (more…)

Persecution is NOT good for what ails the church (Part One)

Is persecution good for what ails the church? Here’s the word on the street:

Viewpoint A: Everyone knows that persecution purifies the church –

  • Therefore, if revival is to come, it will be through suffering.
  • Therefore, persecution is a good, a benefit.
  • Therefore, the committed Christian should pray for persecution to fall on their country.

Now, I know of no verse where Christians should hope for or pray for persecution. Nor is there a passage that says, “If you pray for revival, you’d better duck, God will send you tribulation.” These viewpoints strikes me as two of these Bible interpretations which are, to use the British phrase, “too clever by half.” It’s similar to the one I’ve heard people say, that we shouldn’t pray for patience – after all, if we do, God will send trials on us! I’m stymied, how a Christian could balk at praying for a fruit of the Spirit, or imagine that God will use our sincere prayer in order to play a trick on us!

The Bible is clear, and 2000 years of history give the same message –

  • Revival comes with or without persecution.
  • That is, revival and persecution do not follow a strict cause and effect. Nor are they typically correlated.
  • If there is correlation, it’s the question of the chicken and the egg – sometimes persecution comes because the church is growing and lively.
  • Persecution does not necessarily result in purification or vitality.
  • Persecution may be an impediment to church growth as much as it is a spur to growth.
  • People who pray for, seek or volunteer for persecution are on thin ice.

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The evidence: (more…)

Why you’ve never heard of the Second Corinthian Church [Studies in 1 Corinthians]

Second Corinthian Church

Second Corinthian Church

Paul was a traveling apostle, not the local pastor of Corinth. Nevertheless, he had to deal with the members of this flock in a pastoral way, teaching, encouraging and rebuking them.

I’ve spend some years studying 1 Corinthians, and I must admit honestly, that if I had been Paul, I would have been heavily tempted to abandon the Corinthian church, and that long before he wrote 1 Corinthians in AD 56. The fact that Paul did not do so is a testimony to what God was doing at Corinth. It is estimated that there were perhaps 60-100 Christians in Corinth, distributed among 3-4 congregations, which met in private homes. It took two years to plant that church; it had then received five years of further apostolic care from Paul, then Apollos, probably Cephas/Peter, not to mention Timothy, Titus and other team members. It carried on regular written correspondence with Paul. It was a church for which Paul (more…)

My four decades in the Bible – Part III

Chapter Five – I start to teach others

For two years I had been taking in the Bible and growing in prayer and evangelism. I served a summer as a camp counselor at Camp Pine Ridge in Rumney, New Hampshire. The older counselors were students at Bible college, and they told me that the New American Standard Bible, published in 1971, was the most dependable; I used it for the next few years.

At some point, my church’s youth group added a Wednesday night Bible study to its weekly schedule. For a year or so I attended, and for some reason I was asked to be a regular teacher. I was keenly aware of the verse that said “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). How was I to teach other teenagers, most of whom were older than I, when I was just beginning to feel my way around the Scriptures? (more…)

My four decades in the Bible – Part I

Congratulate me! I just passed an anniversary – in September 1972 I picked up a Bible, opened it and began to read it for myself.

To be sure, I had grown up in a Bible-believing Baptist church. I went to Sunday School, memorized Bible verses, could recite the books of the Bible. I knew what Revelation was about and the basic plot of many books. I knew what Paul did, I knew who Jeremiah was. In fact, I was known as the “religious one” in my family.

I started my real journey at the same time I had an experience that turned my life upside-down. Although I had professed faith in Christ and been baptized, it was then that I knew that I was a child of God and that he was calling me to be his disciple.

Chapter One – I react against false teaching

Like Pilgrim in the story, I was barely on my way when I met with danger and confusion. (more…)