At Romsey Methodist Church we are considering four Ws, Welcome, Wonder, Worship and Wider, which will be forming the foundations of our vision for the church.
They will also tie into the Holy Habits which we shall start in September. This blog entry looks at the first W, Welcome.
Are we welcoming and welcomed?
“Hello, good evening and welcome” from the late Sir David Frost is one of the most famous welcomes of the last few decades. Hopefully we feel welcome when we arrive for a church service. But if we were all to stop and think for a moment, do we always feel welcome there? What does it mean to be welcomed, and to feel welcome?
I remember, years ago when I was a student, going home for the holidays. One day my mother said to me, “You treat this place like a hotel.” I was deeply hurt by her remark, and I have been determined never to say it to my own children. But what did she mean, and did she have a point? As part of our commitment to God, our commitment to each other, and our commitment to our wider community, we want to make sure that people can come to church and feel at ease; feel that they want to stay; and feel that they are surrounded by caring, friendly people. If we just pop in and out when we have something to do, or need something (i.e. a hotel mentality), will we encourage an atmosphere of welcome?
At “Who Let the Dads Out?” we have tried to create an easy-going, welcoming atmosphere, where the dads and their children can feel easy and at rest. They can simply come and have a coffee and bacon roll, and read a newspaper if that’s is all they want to do. There is no compunction to take part in anything, there is no ulterior motive on our part.
Jesus said that we are to welcome all people. Indeed, when we welcome a little child in the name of Jesus we are welcoming Jesus into our midst. And when we welcome Jesus we are welcoming God the Father. Luke wrote in his gospel,
Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and made him stand beside him. Then he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.
But it isn’t just little children we are to welcome. In the parable of the sheep and the goats Jesus said,
‘Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was ill and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”’
We should welcome all kinds of people, without first considering who or what they are. We shouldn’t simply welcome people because of what they might be able to do for our church, or for us as individuals. Don’t have any ulterior motives, forget about that empty coffee rota or flower rota, forget that gap on the Church Council!
In the Jewish society of Jesus’ time children were the most unimportant members of society, and so when Jesus encouraged his disciples to welcome little children he was implying that they would need to be humble enough to welcome anyone, even the lowest of the low. They would have understood that, when they were that humble, questions of who was the greatest wouldn’t even enter their heads.
God welcomes all people. Paul wrote, in his first letter to the Corinthians,
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
We don’t need to be wise or influential, or of noble birth. In fact, Paul says that God chose those who weren’t wise or influential so that they couldn’t boast about themselves. We should not boast of anything except of our Lord Jesus Christ. God welcomes us just as we are, complete with all our worldly inadequacies. Consequently, we should welcome others just as they are.
One question we should ask ourselves is whether we are actually expecting people to visit us. If we are expecting visitors, then we will put the time and effort into preparing a welcome for them. My wife Marion and I often say that it is good to have housegroup, or some other meeting, regularly at home because it ensures that the house is made clean and tidy!
When we first moved to the area 27 years ago we looked round for a church to attend. We went to a local church, and we went in, sat down, had the service, and then left, and not one person spoke to us. You won’t be surprised to hear that we didn’t go back there again. How we are welcomed somewhere has a large effect on whether we return.
We should welcome all people as though we were welcoming Christ, because we are indeed welcoming Christ. Realising that should have a large impact on how we deal with people, and especially in our welcoming. We have made great strides recently in the appearance of our church building, and we now have the possibility of making a very welcome space. But that isn’t enough is it? We ourselves need to be welcoming. Having a cup of coffee or tea when you enter is part of our welcome. After all, what is the first thing that most of us would do when we receive a guest into our home? It seems natural, and the right thing to do, to offer our guests a drink when they arrive.
Of course, if we were simply to give our guests a drink and then ignore them we wouldn’t be very caring. So too, our welcome of people into the church, and into the presence of God, needs to be all-encompassing. Our premises need to be warm and comfortable, and they need to cater for the needs of our guests (as well as ourselves); whether that’s for those with disabilities, or hearing or sight loss, or for young families with babies and toddlers; whether it’s for teenagers or the elderly – we need to be welcoming for all these people. And when we invite these people in we invite in Jesus, the Son of God. And when we invite him in we invite in God the Father. Meeting together here is an opportunity to encounter the living God!
Do you mean me?!
The next few verses in chapter 9 of Luke’s gospel tell how John told Jesus that they saw someone driving out demons in the name of Jesus and so they tried to stop him because he was not one of the disciples. Jesus’ response was that they shouldn’t stop anyone like that because “whoever is not against you is for you”. This is a point that should help us when we are facing welcoming people in the name of Jesus. What would that phrase mean now, “he is not one of us”? I suppose it means anyone who isn’t in our immediate circle, so that could be other Christians from other denominations, or it could mean people of other faiths, or even no faith at all. Jesus said that if they are not against us then they are for us, and so we should welcome them on that assumption. Doesn’t that make it easier to welcome people?
When we were at Spring Harvest in April, we were told about some research, “Talking Jesus”, that had been done last year on behalf of the Church of England, the Evangelical Alliance and HOPE. It covered questions such as What do people in this nation know and believe about Jesus? What do they really think of us, his followers? Are we talking about Jesus enough? And when we are, are we drawing people closer towards him, or further away?
It’s amazing to hear that 66% of practising Christians had talked about Jesus to non-Christians in the past month. Not only that, but 67% of the population have contact with at least one Christian. So we should find it fairly easy to find people to welcome. We should also expect a response that might be better than we originally expected. 20%, that’s 1 in 5 people, said that they would be open to hearing about Jesus. Ok, we might get turned away 4 out of 5 times, but just think – every 5th of your friends, family or colleagues could be open to you talking to them about Jesus! And that’s important: think about how you came to faith in Christ. The results of this research showed that 36% of practising Christians said talking to a Christian about Jesus was important in their coming to faith.
In his letter to the Romans Paul wrote,
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?
If, like Paul, “our hearts’ desire and prayer to God” for people “is that they may be saved” (v1), to use Paul’s phrase, then we will need to speak to them. A likely first step is to make them feel welcome, whether that’s in our church building, in our homes, or even out and about somewhere. That new research shows that it might not be as difficult as we might have thought. Here’s one of their conclusions:
We are liked. Let’s recognise this and inspire confidence as a result of it, challenging the prevailing negative media image of Christians. But let’s also consider how we can build on people’s positive feelings about us to connect with their spiritual welfare and relationship with God.
But most reassuring of all is that we don’t have to do this alone. God is already out there, working on bringing people to him. Another conclusion from the research says:
We need to pray for the Church in our nation. We are faced with an enormous challenge but also great opportunities. Simply improving our skills or commitment will not be enough, we need God’s intervention, prayer alongside any action is essential.
So, let’s welcome people because we want to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with them.
Let’s welcome them because as we do we welcome Jesus, and when we welcome Jesus we welcome the Father.
Let’s welcome them because if we don’t who will?
And finally, let’s welcome them into the presence of the living God, who is here in our midst.