One of the characteristics of a Christian community, indeed part of God’s vision for such a community, is that the members should be becoming more and more like Christ. This will be shown by, as the apostle Paul puts it, increasingly ‘to have our minds set on what the Spirit desires’ not what our sinful nature desires (Romans 8:5). This involves having a servant heart and being driven to servant behavior, indeed our attitude should be ‘the same as Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 2:5). Such an attitude, as I shall be talking about more generally today, involves being ‘other person centered’ rather than self centered, that is to look after the interests of others, not just ourselves. One specific example of this is to offer hospitality to one another, without grumbling (1 Peter 4:9). The expression ‘offer hospitality’ needs some unpacking so we don’t just think it means having people around for coffee, a dinner or a BBQ, although it means at least that. The expression ‘offer hospitality’ literally means ‘love strangers’, these may include people generally we don’t know, but it specifically means the ‘strangers’ in the congregation we don’t know. These will include those who are visiting us for whatever reason —those whom we see in the service that we don’t really know are the very strangers we are called to love. What this practically means is to ‘look after their interest first’ or to love them by acting for their benefit. To put it simply, to ‘welcome them’ and treat them as an honoured guest. This is the Christian responsibility of everyone at CrossRoads.
Welcoming involves a lot more than smiling and saying hi! It means going out of our way to be helpful, for example we should not automatically assume that everyone knows how the service works. It involves giving out information that may be helpful, for example some of the literature in the foyer, including one of the ‘Welcome’ packs—it may mean showing where the crèche, the children’s ministry, the toilets are. It means encouraging them to come into, and accompanying them to morning tea, introducing them to other CrossRoads members, and to people who might be able to answer specific questions they might have. This is the responsibility of every CrossRoads member.
Offering hospitality goes beyond the service time, i.e. ‘welcoming’ involves inviting newcomers, as well as others in the congregation whom we don’t know, around to coffee, or lunch or dinner. If they have recently moved into the area, it may well mean seeing what we can do the help them settle in to the area. These are all examples of positive things we can do to ‘love the stranger’.
There are however behaviours that are less welcoming, ones that should be avoided, yet unfortunately can be seen from time to time. These include:
- Ignoring the ’stranger’ i.e. the person we don’t know.
- Filling up all the back-row seats so that someone for whom even coming to church has taken a lot of courage, or the family struggling with young children, can’t easily find a seat to slip into.
- Sitting at the end of rows which blocks them off.
- Expecting we can always sit in the same seat, even when a visitor is already sitting in it.
- Standing with, sitting with, always talking to, the same people in the foyer or at morning tea, while the ‘stranger’ (to us anyway) is left alone.
Most of the time of course we do these things without thinking but they are unhelpful behaviours which are not other person (particularly ‘stranger’) centered, and clearly do not look after their interest.
We praise God for the many of our members that go out of their way to make the ‘stranger’ welcome, that is a work of growing spiritual maturity indeed a sign of developing the ‘attitude of Christ’. However ‘loving the stranger’ is the Christ centered responsibility of every CrossRoads member.
May we all grow to be more and more like Jesus, shown in an important way by our ‘welcomingness’, our love of those who are ‘strangers’ i.e. the ones we don’t know. This is an aspect of God’s vision for us as a Christian community.
May it be so!
Martin J. Bragger,