About Jesus    Steve Sweetman

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Institutionalized Friendliness


I write this article out of a sincere sense of sadness due to the lack of sensitivity found in many of our churches.  The events I'm about to share are personal, but I know they're far too common in our churches. 


I recently listened to a message by a pastor concerning "spiritual fathers".  One point he made in the message concerned the importance of being a friendly church.  I "think" he views himself as being an example of a friendly person.  That reminded me of the following. 


A few years back my wife and I attended Sunday morning meetings conducted by this pastor.  We didn't find him or his people overly friendly, so we eventually left.  Before leaving we attended the pastor's birthday party in an attempt to get to know people in the church.  I spent some time making him a special card on my computer.  When we arrived at the party the pastor was talking to his assistant, something he could do any day of the week.  I didn't want to interrupt their conversation, so I stood a couple of feet away with card in hand hoping they'd stop talking and acknowledge my presence.  They didn't.  They just kept talking as if I was invisible.  I kindly interrupted and passed the card to the pastor.  While still talking to his assistant, he accepted my card with a "quick" thanks and continued with his conversation, a conversation that could have taken place anytime.  It was just small talk.    


After getting nowhere with the pastor, my wife and I sat down hoping to strike up a conversation with someone else.  Everyone seemed engrossed in conversion with each other, but not with us.  No one talked to us all evening, except the one person in the room that I knew. 


We were also invited to a gathering of about 12 people on 3 occasions.  On all 3 occasions no one spoke to us except one friend we already knew.  Even though the pastor sat directly in front of us on the third occasion, he said nothing to us.  On the last occasion my friend actually dragged someone over to speak with us. 


When I recently heard this pastor's comment on being friendly, I just shook my head in amazement.  I'm strong enough in the Lord that all this unfriendliness didn't bother me all that much.  We just moved on.  However, the next situation I'm about to share did bother me a lot.      


My son, who "asked Jesus into his heart" at the age of 4 graduated from university a couple years back and started working in a city that was new to him.  Every day I pray that he will give more of his life to Jesus.  So when he told me he was going to attend a local Pentecostal church meeting, I was happy.  He had not been to a Christian gathering for a few years.


My happiness soon turned to disgust when he told me how things went that Sunday morning.  He entered the doors to the church building, found his way to a pew, sat down, and watched the service unfold before him on the platform.  When the service ended, he rose from the pew, walked down the isle, out the door, and headed home.  Guess what?  "No one", absolutely "no one", spoke a word to my son, except the person who sat beside him, and that was only after the pastor "told" everyone to greet the person sitting beside them.  I know he's my son, and that's why this upset me, but such unfriendliness in church shouldn't be.  It's the responsibility of those in the church to be friendly to visitors.  Actually, most churches these days have designated greeters, because if they didn't, no one would be greeted.  It's a sad state of affairs when we have to "institutionalize friendliness" with designated greeters. 


The love of God that we claim to have must extend beyond our little circle of friends.  Hebrews 13:2 tells us to "entertain strangers".  3 John 8 tells us to show hospitality so the work of the Lord can continue.  The work of the Lord was temporarily halted in the life of my son that Sunday morning.  He hasn't been back to a meeting of the church since.


The word "hospitality" that is seen in many New Testament passages is translated from a Greek word that consists of two other Greek words.  They are,"phillos", meaning, "to love", and "xenus", meaning, "a stranger".  To be hospitable is "to show love to the stranger in your midst."  My son was a stranger that Sunday.  Hebrews 13:2 and 3 John 8 was totally ignored that day.         


I have a good friend named Robert Bailey.  I've known him all of my life.  He is a good example of showing hospitality in a gathering of the saints.  Any time him and I are in the same meeting, we hardly ever talk.  Robert is usually talking with others he doesn't know as well as me.  We talk during the week anyway, so that's not a big deal.  The pastor I mentioned above would do well to follow Robert's example. 


I believe some people are predisposed to being more hospitable than others.  It's a gift from our Lord.  Most of us aren't so predisposed.  That being said, the church has a mandate from the Lord to reach out to people with the gospel.  That requires a measure of friendliness.  Somehow we need to find grace for this.  


The next time you raise your hands in praise to our Saviour in a gathering of the saints, think about extending a hand of hospitality to the stranger in your midst.  Raised hands to the Lord means little if the same hands aren't extended to the stranger.  Besides, you might be a stranger some day too.       



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