At the entrance of our sanctuary is a big red doormat with the golden word Welcome on it. That is a good start for everyone who enters the house of the Lord but what is the experience thereafter? In the last Annual Congregation Meeting (ACM), we relook at the focus of the church for this year, which is to be a welcoming church. This is never meant to be a deviation from our mission statement: “Love God*Make Disciples” If we say we love God, the best evidence must be found in our love for people. The Apostle John was very clear on that:
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God…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. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (1 John 4. 7, 20-21)
If we want to make disciples, it also has to begin with love – loving God enough to obey Him and loving the people whom we disciple. Love should undergird all our disciple-making efforts. Otherwise, it will be a chore and the efforts will not be sustainable. To be welcoming is part of what it means to show love to one another. It is ironic that we emphasise so much on making disciples when we cannot even welcome people in our midst – strangers and regular worshippers! It is also ironic that we go to great lengths to serve the Lord in our various ministries when we cannot even serve Him by pausing to listen to one another or rendering practical help or speaking a word of encouragement.
I have observed a few things which we can do better. I see a family sitting alone at a table in the cozy corner or an individual standing alone in the lobby outside the sanctuary without anyone going up to speak with them; I see worshippers who sit side by side each other but never exchange any greetings after the service, not even a smile; I see people seated at the side of the pews showing that they are perturbed because they have to make way for those who are trying to reach the center of the pews; I see people in a rush, not being able to pause to speak with another worshipper and not allowing themselves opportunities to be spoken to. As much as people like to be welcomed, I am also aware that there are those who are happy to come and go without being noticed and if we ever try to be a little more enthusiastic with them, it will only scare them away. Still, let us ere on the hospitable side!
I won’t say that we are completely hopeless where welcoming is concerned because there has been positive feedback from newcomers that True Way is a warm church. But so far, most of the welcoming efforts are undertaken by the leaders and those serving in the Welcome Teams. I want to applaud their commitment as well as the support that their families have given them in allowing them to spend time with the newcomers. However, the efforts cannot just rest on the shoulders of a specialised group of people. Since our focus for this year is on being a welcoming community, I really hope to see the welcoming culture permeate the whole church. So let’s play our individual part so that we can grow in our love for people and in the process, become more and more like our Lord Jesus Christ who Himself is a model for us when it comes to welcoming people that God puts in His path.
I shared during the ACM some simple steps we can take to make progress in this area:
· Start with the Leaders – the leaders must set the pace and be good role models for us
· Serve in the Welcome Teams – those who have the gift of hospitality and are comfortable in meeting up with newcomers, please step forward
· Smile with sincerity – a smile can cause boundaries to melt, hearts to warm up, and distances to reduce.
· Share your Bibles – look out for those seated near you who don’t have a Bible and offer to share yours; for this to happen, you must have a Bible yourself!
· Sense who the Holy Spirit wants you to speak to & step out in obedience – it’s always exciting to partner the Holy Spirit when doing ministry
· Step out of your comfort zone – in doing so, our faith is stretched and that’s how we grow
· Spend the time with someone after the service before doing anything else
Someone commented to an elder after ACM that we only focus on the newcomers and the old timers seem to have been left out. Obviously, the person felt neglected. But who says the welcoming efforts are only confined to the newcomers! The above steps can be applied to caring for fellow worshippers, newcomers or otherwise. Everyone needs tender loving care. “The yearning to attach and connect, to love and be loved, is the fiercest longing of the soul.” (John Ortberg)
In the last IDO, I led in worship and sang two songs. The first was “A new commandment” and the second, “We are one in the bond of love”. There is a line from the first song that says, “By this shall all menknow you are my disciples if you have love one for another,” and there is a line from the second song that says, “Let us join our hands, that the world will know we are one in the bond of love.” Both lines tell us that there is an evangelistic impact when we show love to one another – the world will know! I wonder whether our friends who have come for the Gospel Sunday today, those who have stepped onto our Welcome doormat, through their time with us, would they have caught a better glimpse of the love of God? Would they know?
Ps Kien Seng
May 29, 2011