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Are You a Welcoming Church?

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Are You a Welcoming Church?

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Why do you go to church every week? There are a lot of answers that probably pop into your head right away. First, God commands us to keep the Sabbath and assemble (Exodus 20:8-11; Hebrews 10:24-25). Perhaps it’s because you know it’s where you can get good, biblically sound advice on living life. Or maybe it’s just to learn more about God’s ways and you recognize the need to live your life in a manner that pleases God. All of those are good reasons. But if some were to give a totally honest answer to this question, it would be that they value the social opportunity or feel pressure from family to continue attendance.

Jesus Christ will return to this earth and establish the Kingdom of God, and the gates of hell will not prevail against His bride, the Church. But in the meantime, people like you and I benefit greatly from being with others of like mind. We can offer emotional support to one another during trials, and Church offers helpful and informative sermons that help us on our journey to the Kingdom of God. And there are things like Feast sites and camps that need to be organized, staffed, run and paid for in a very physical way. In order for all of this happen, we (that includes me) need there to be an organization that helps get it done. So, for the purposes of the rest of this article, we will be referring to that organization as “your church.”

With that being said, consider the question again. Why do you go to your church—the specific church you go to every week? If you’re having a tough time answering that, maybe ask the question a different way. What do you value about your church?

A sense of belonging

In a word, one of the things that draws us back to church each week—regardless of age—is warmth. It’s that welcoming feeling of being at home. It’s comfortable. Like your home, it might not be perfect, maybe it’s even a little messy at times, but it’s home. You feel welcome there. Being there gives you a warm feeling.

In their book, Growing Young, Kara Powell, Jake Mulder and Brad Griffin assert “…you may think young people are staying because of beliefs, but it’s more often about finding an experience that feels like family. For teenagers and emerging adults, depth of relationship opens the door to deep exploration of belief. First relationship, then formation. First belonging, then belief. And eventually, these blend into one fluid movement.”

This might shock or upset you if you’ve been in the Church a long time. For old-timers like us, we think, “God’s Word is the most valuable thing. Learning it and practicing it leads to a feeling of belonging.” That is true, but it’s a truth we usually don’t realize until after we’ve been doing it a few decades. The question here today is, what kept you coming to a church where God’s Word was being taught, so that you could grow to that understanding that abiding by God’s laws and living by His Word brought you warmth? Warmth is not just an effect in our Christian journey, it is a cause as well.

Family, despite faults

Consider God’s calling of Abram, it is recorded beginning in Genesis 12 and starts with these words, “Now the LORD had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’” (verses 1-3). God’s instructions don’t start off with a list of do’s and don’ts, but rather an invitation. God invites Abram to come to a new home. A place that will bring the gift of many blessings. In addition, God promises to be Abram’s friend and support him, helping him and the people Abram is friends with, and being on his side when Abram finds himself in a bad situation. In short, God offers Abram the love and warmth associated with being a part of God’s family.

Interestingly enough, very shortly after that, Abram sinned. He was worried he would be killed and his wife, Sarai taken from him. He concocts a story to try and save himself, but fortunately, God intervened before anyone got too hurt. Yet Abram did sin by bearing false witness about the true identity of his wife.

Not long after that, Abram ran into a potential family squabble with his nephew, Lot. There were a lot of people and resources were limited to provide for them and their flocks. So, Abram wound up offering a comprise. “So Abram said to Lot, ‘Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left’” (Genesis 13:8-9).

After that, Lot got into a bad situation in Sodom and Gomorrah. Abram was able to intervene and save Lot, and afterward offered tithes to Melchizadek. But it’s not until after this, that we really see what God thought of Abram.

In Genesis 15:2-3, Abram expresses a little frustration with his life, “But Abram said, ‘Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ Then Abram said, ‘Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!’”

After all he had been through—Abram’s lies, family squabbles, war—Abram lashes out at God a bit. And what was God’s reaction?

“And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.’ Then He brought him outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be’” (verses 4-5). Instead of dropping fire and brimstone on Abram’s head, God promises a very special, very personal blessing—a child.

So, what’s the lesson here? Lie, kill and throw a tantrum until God gives you what you want? Of course not. The lesson here isn’t about Abram’s actions, but what God was doing. God was giving Abram His time and attention. He offered him the warm, loving embrace of family, in spite of his faults.

God did require obedience from Abram. Abram would have to pay for the mistakes brought about by his sins. He would have to endure trials and more strife in his family. But nowhere along the line did God stop loving Abram, or retract His offer to be Abram’s friend. Abram trusted God as his Father, and God loved Abram as his son. They were family.

This yielded something truly special. After receiving the promise of his own children, notice that God says something about Abram. “And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (verse 6). God counted Abram as being righteous. Not because he had paid tithes or obeyed commandments perfectly, but because he believed God. He had faith. Had God not been the warm, inviting Father He was, Abram would have never had faith, and God would have never counted him as righteous. Warmth was the cause first, long before it became the effect.

Embracing your Church family

What do you value about your church? Even if the sermons are good and the location is convenient, if it weren’t a warm, inviting, place where you felt comfortable enough to share with others your struggles and mistakes, you probably wouldn’t go there very long.

So, what is it that makes it warm to you? Is it the smiles and the hugs of those who patiently listen to your questions? Is it the freedom to express your feelings in an open and honest way? Is it the brutal honesty others express to you when you need to be held accountable? Is it having someone to share with when you’ve been delivered through a particular trial, and the sheer joy others share with you at the news?

Whatever it is you value—however it is you feel that warmth, be that warmth for others. Don’t forsake or minimize God’s expectations of us, but be warm to others. Let them know you are a safe space for them to be themselves. Some, particularly newer members, may not have that at home. Their newfound understanding of God’s Word may have led to some feeling of separation from their biological family. While we don’t want to encourage division on the home front, they may be in need of a place they can go to get a warm feeling that is missing in their lives at the moment. Be their family.

When it comes to the future and the growth of the Church, we should always pray for God to bless that according to His will. And as we wait to see how He grows His Church, let’s be the kind of warm, loving Church that He can do His work in!