Summary: Church is a foreign, strange enviroment to seekers. How can we develop into a place of welcome as the church? What habits can we adopt that will make us the place of welcome that God wants us to be?
I owe thanks to Pastor wes Richard for the basic outline of this sermon. As well, Steven Covey, who was Wes’ inspiration, served as a starting point for me as well.
Sermon for CATM January 9, 2005 - The Welcoming Church - Romans 15:1-7
A few days ago at the YSM House of Prayer, someone commented as we were discussing the devastating tsunami that has been so much on our hearts, that years ago, there was no such response to disasters far away.
When the famine and floods overwhelmed Bangladesh in the 70’s, the west sent some money, but, this person commented, we weren’t really touched deeply by the tragedy. Why is that? Why is the western response to this tragedy so big, when in the past worse events have been largely unfelt by us?
It’s not because we’ve evolved as a culture, although surely we have matured a bit over the years. It’s not because the media coverage is so much greater. There was a lot of media back in the seventies.
It’s because the people on the other side of the world are no longer strangers and aliens to us.
They are our friends. They are our neighbours. Quite simply, they are part of our daily lives as we are part of theirs.
And when they hurt, we hurt with them. Because they are us. And we are them. And that is why I love Toronto. All of humanity as God created us, male and female, Sri Lankan and Russian and English and French and East Indian and Bangladeshi and first nations and all the rest, are our neighbours. And friends. There is no more us and them. There is only us, and that ‘us’ includes all of humanity. This is, I believe, as God would have it.
And we are a church in the middle of a beautifully international community. And this is no accident. It’s not because some politicians relaxed our immigration laws. It’s because God has called Canada to be an international nation. And so we are.
The questions is, as a church in an international city in an international nation, how can we truly
embrace the new people around us? How can we open our arms and hearts to the new people from all over the world who are and will increasingly become our fellow worshippers? How can we improve the welcome that we give to guests who join us?
Or as our purpose statement, the one that is on the front page of our bulletin every week says, how can we share the fulness of God’s love by providing a welcoming and accepting environment in this church we call our own? These are very important questions, and I think a great way of answering them is to look at some habits...some good habits...seven habits...of a
The first habit of a welcoming church is that of consideration for each other. Rom 15:2 Each of us should please his neighbour for his good, to build him up.
God challenges each of us to turn our eyes outward. There is a time for reflection and meditation, yes. Definitely. But there is also a time to focus on building one another up.
And as we’re thinking about what it means to be a welcoming church, we need to be aware that when guests come into our service or come into the mission, especially for the first couple of times, they are really not familiar with anything - the people, the atmosphere, the way we worship. It is all unknown to them. Strange. Possibly or probably uncomfortable.
Those of us who have been here a few months or years or for many years can forget that others see things differently from the way we do. When you’re super comfortable with a place or a church, you don’t think much about how people look at you or how much you may be appreciated.
You take a lot for granted. Newer people, people perhaps fresh to us, have a different experience
coming here. They have different questions. They are wondering if the people here are nice. They are noticing how people interact and how much kindness is shown between people. If guests have children, they are wondering if this is a safe place for them, if the children will be accepted and well cared for and loved.
So God calls us to an awareness of others, to thinking less about how we’re doing and more about how others are doing. The scripture is pretty clear and uses pretty strong language: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others”. Philipians 2:3-4