Summary: Being a welcoming church is more than an abstract principle.
“So warmly welcome each other into the church, just as Christ has warmly welcomed you; then God will be glorified” Romans 15:7 TLB
Being a welcoming church is more than an abstract principle. It’s more than words on paper. And so, what does it mean for us to be a people or a church who are truly welcoming of others? I transferred from one large Texas city which was my birthplace to another large Texas city almost 12 years ago, but every now and then I love to go back home and re-explore the city I love so dearly.
I was an associate minister of a great church family in that city, in fact this church is where I announced my calling to preach the gospel some twenty-five years. The church was pastored by my uncle who was a very old fashion saintly man, he passed way almost twenty years ago but he was a great pastor and one of his pet pees was to make all visitors feel welcome.
Recently I returned to my hometown in order to visit an ill relative and I was also invited by a very good friend who pastors a small church in the city. I thought to myself about how wonderful it would be to visit my old church who had an early morning service prior to going to friend’s church. I called and informed the pastor that I wanted to worship with he and his church.
Well when Sunday morning arrived, I attended my old church, met and hugged some of the older members who were still there. However, as the church began, I was not treated as a guest, I was treated as if I was trying to invade their church by most of the clergy there that morning. I couldn’t understand just why I was being snubbed and ostracized, I left this church in good faith and by letter almost 12 years ago with little to no contact with these men of God and yet all throughout the service I was pretty much given the cold shoulder and yes it did hurt.
Although it hurt me a little bit it helped me a lot. Why? Because it caused me to consult the Word of God and read what Paul wrote to the Roman church one day, “…warmly welcome each other into the church, just as Christ has warmly welcomed you; then God will be glorified.” If God is ‘glorified’ when we welcome one another, how does God feel when we treat our brothers and sisters as if they are not welcome in His house?
I have visited my share of congregations over the years and all of them claim to be the friendliest church. Yet, what I observe and what I am sure others experience is that people in these churches are friendly — but they are friendly to each other.
Often, during congregational greeting time, parishioners greet one another warmly, but guests are left feeling like outsiders. It is not that people are not speaking to them, but that people are brushing past them quickly, so they can connect with those they know in the congregation. When this happens repeatedly, it makes a visitor feel like an intruder and not a guest.
1. Accept One Another
I can’t help but wonder occasionally, what is so difficult about accepting one another? Especially when you consider the fact that God accepts us, despite our messy lives, impure motives, and irritating attitudes. One of the ways we reflect God’s love and bring him glory is to accept one another just as He accepts us. This means we accept others’ quirks and look past their faults in order to see individuals created in the image of God. Also, when you consider that fact, God designed us to mature spiritually with the help of others. For instance, we can’t learn to love others on our own. We need to learn how to accept one another unconditionally.
Something that helps me is knowing that whether I am safe among friends, I am safe with the Lord...and this is what the text points up to us in no uncertain terms. When we come to church on Sunday morning or throughout the week, we should feel comfortable, we should feel secure and safe in our home church or another church we happen to visit, we shouldn’t be made to feel uncomfortable. Not in what is supposed to be God’s house, in God’s house, there should never be any big I’s and little u’s. My father in the ministry and uncle, the late Rev. Robert Miller, Jr. used to remind us that, “We are all in this leaky boat together.” 1 Corinthians 12: 21, says, The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" We are all tied together by a single thread, and we are all headed for the same destination. When I see finally see Jesus, I don’t want to have to explain to Him as to why I snubbed and/or overlooked my brother or my sister.