I was a stranger and you welcomed me.
-Matthew 25:35b (NRSV)
Scott Dannemiller - speaker, author, blogger, worship leader, leadership consultant, and former missionary with the Presbyterian Church - recently wrote a blog titled "The Church Is Not Your Home." I found this to be a most interesting read, and I couldn't help but note the obvious parallels between his thoughts and our church's motto
non nobis solum.
One of the things that most attracted me to this church
in 2005 were these words on the front of the worship bulletin: "Welcome! This church opens wide its doors and, in the name of Jesus Christ, says, "Welcome to our Father's house!"
The Statement of Purpose on the front of that same bulletin offered that this "is a spiritual home and caring family in Jesus Christ, welcoming ALL to share God's love." One of the Guiding Principles stated, "We are called to love God and our neighbors and to serve all people."
And just in case you didn't "feel" welcomed enough, there was another paragraph that read, "We are delighted you have chosen to worship with our church family! We pray you will experience the presence of the living God as you worship with believers in this place, and that you will be encouraged in your relationship with your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
Scott writes that "Christians are pros at welcoming. If welcoming were an Olympic sport, churches would be Michael Phelps, only with coffee stations and tuna hot dish." We roll out the red carpet and strive to treat Sunday morning visitors like guests in our own home! We want them to feel like a part of our church family!
Scott challenges, however, that we should take a deeper look at the definition of what it means to be "family" in the context of church. Yes, we warmly welcome folks in worship, and we absolutely want them to join our church family. But are we truly meeting them where they are, or are we asking them to meet us where we are - must they worship like us, believe like us, look like us?
Do we expect newcomers to quickly learn the history of who we are so they can assimilate seamlessly into our midst? Or do we take time getting to know the "stranger," learning about them and how they feel called to serve this church?
What if the stranger who walks into the Welcome Center this Sunday has never before entered the doors of a church? Will we expect that person to know how to "behave" in church? Suppose the individual didn't get the memo that cut-offs and flip-flops are not the "acceptable" attire for Sunday morning. Are the rules and traditions of our church "family" such that we unintentionally exclude the stranger in our midst?
Prayer for Today
Lord God, in the words of the beautiful hymn we sang last Sunday, help us to truly welcome ALL to "Come! Live in the light!" May the light of Christ show through our openness , reaching out to the family of God. Amen.