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.

Large-crowd-of-people-0143

 

“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 Holy Spirit is not limited by our brain chemistry

This morning I attended a service in Costa Rica. It’s not our church, but one I sometimes visit. The congregation is English-speaking, Afro-Caribbean. They have a strong island accent. I was one of a few white people in the congregation.

As usual, they greeted me warmly.

Our home church is Latin American and Spanish-speaking. We go to one of the lightly attended services, and we are two white faces among 100 Latinos. And they always treat us as family.

I could go on: Romanian churches, where I knew almost nothing of the language; an African American church in Philly; campesino rural churches in Costa Rica; churches in a communist land, where every billboard and TV news program proclaim that they should hate me because I’m from the USA. [1]

Different languages, cultures, colors. Yet they make me, a minority, feel at home.

This is miraculous, Spirit-inspired, Christian love.

imageBrain specialists and sociologists have now shown that people automatically gravitate toward those who look like them. Like feels comfortable with like, uncomfortable with different. So whether we realize it or not, our brains push us to clump together with people like ourselves.

But in the end, what does it matter? Because God is a mighty God; and the Spirit is not limited by our hard wiring. Therefore, like Samson on his better days,  we people of the new birth can and must stretch to breaking the dictates of our brain chemistry.

Those who authentically walk in the Holy Spirit love don’t just run to their friends – they stand on tip-toe, trying to spot people who look isolated, confused, friendless, disconnected, and make a beeline to them.

Lord, I surely hope that when I’m in a group, surrounded by friends, in the racial and cultural majority, that I make “the unlike” feel as welcomed as these brothers and sisters make me.

NOTE:

[1] By the way, I am very much aware that my positive experiences might be due to the fact that I run in circles in which white people are seen positively. Were I a black man in an all-white American church; a Chinese or Nicaraguan person in a Costa Rican church; a biker covered in tattoos; a farmer in a sophisticated upper middle-class church; then perhaps their acceptance of me would be the heartier miracle. It’s a good way to test how supernaturally loving we are, not when we are tolerant of the favored Other, but of the disfavored.

Related Posts:

The Sheep and the Goats on Sunday Morning

A Pastor’s Love for the Flock

The Forgotten Sign of the End Times: Icy Relations among God’s People

Fake Fruits Sole Here – as Cheap as they Come

“The Holy Spirit is not limited by our brain chemistry,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San Jose, Costa Rica

A Pastor’s Love for the Flock [Studies in the New Covenant]

The first great commandment for the Christian is to love God, the second great commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself (Matt 22:34-40).

The first great commandment for the Christian pastor is to love God, the second to love one’s neighbor, and especially one’s flock. A pastor must represent Christ to other people, principally in love.

N. T. Wright gives a wonderful 2-minute video on what he wants the next generation of pastors to learn (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lluSgq8sK3E). He gives three points:

1. Know the Bible backward and forward in the original languages.

2. Spend serious time in prayer.

3. Love people. Of the last he says: “…I want you to learn how to love people. Some people [who are pastors] are naturally loving and they may need to learn other dimensions. Some people are a bit shy and don’t quite know how to do it or they don’t terribly like people that much.”

I believe that Prof. Wright would agree with what I’m going to add: that Christian love is not something one picks up naturally, or by learning other dimensions, or (and I say this as a natural introvert) by getting over one’s shyness. Christian love is a supernatural manifestation of God’s presence. This means that it may be experienced only if God is at work, and where God is not already at work, love is a counterfeit:

1 Thess 4:9 – “Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.” This speaks of God’s inner teaching.

Col 1:3-5, 8 – “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel…[Epaphras] told us of your love in the Spirit.”

And of course, Gal 5:22 – “the fruit of the Spirit is love.”

Q. Is this person loving? A. There's no way to tell from the picture.

Q. Is this pastor loving? A. There’s no way to tell from the picture.

Despite what our culture insists, love has nothing to do with being an extrovert; it has everything to do with the Spirit’s work in us, no matter our “personality type”.

If it is authentic, Christian love is a miracle. It is on a par with Jesus giving sight to the blind man or the apostles healing the lame man. The path to be a loving person is to admit one’s own weakness and total inability to manufacture agape, and to throw oneself upon God’s mercy.

Those who take the other route will find no power for carrying out God’s plan. Mere courtesy, self-confidence, friendliness, warmth, personality, and – heaven help us all – platform charisma, all of these without the presence of God’s love are an illusion, a sham and a deception. They will serve only to harm your people and cheapen the gospel.

“A Pastor’s Love for the Flock,” Gary Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica