Today I came across a tweet from Rebecca McLaughlin that caught my attention. She writes:
At first, I was really struck by how simple these things can be. The second thought I had was that these might be not-so-obvious to those of us who think about worship gatherings on a regular basis.
Why aren’t these obvious? As I look back at my experiences in planning, organizing, and leading Sunday morning services, I find that the word that might best describe my experience is “busy.” Whether I’m preaching, helping lead worship, greeting, ushering, or something else, there is usually something to be done. Even when I’m not scheduled to serve in some particular way, when you’re someone who has been seen serving in different capacity (especially when you are part of a church staff team), you are the designated firefighter for anything and everything that might pop up during a worship gathering.
The hard truth for me is that most often I don’t have the bandwidth to slow down long enough to notice the individual, let alone take action to remedy it. Friends, this is a problem. Why? It’s a problem because I think the most basic biblical posture of a Pastor (or, “shepherd” as brother Paul puts it in his letter to the Ephesian church), is one who understands how to move people into a deeper unity with the Father, through the Son, by the power of the Spirit.
If the purpose of a gathering of the saints is the remembrance of the the act which brought about unity with the Father in the same way as the Son, the “Church” is fundamentally about including those who are far off, including you and me.
There are many things that distract us from this task. McLaughlin points out one that is pretty common: “Friends can wait.” We all need one another to bear the image of God; you and I were designed to be in community together. I think many of us have heard our fair of sermon series on the Body of Christ being a community/fellowship of believers.
I’m more concerned with the environment (or church “culture” if you will) which keeps its leaders so distracted that they miss the opportunity to connect with the person who is alone.
However, someone might object to this line of thinking, saying, “But Mike, the pastor’s job isn’t to connect to every single person who might show up for a gathering. The church needs to be the church.” And I would say, you’re exactly right. In our example, however, that person is at a gathering and is alone. To me, talking to them is every person’s responsibility, regardless of what title they bear. I’ll admit that sometimes I’ve thought to myself in a similar situation that I’m too busy doing something else to try to connect with someone else. But I think that has more to say about my view of my own importance than it doesn’t anything else. Lord, have mercy.
Take some steps
So then, what should we do? I love McLaughlin’s suggestions for what it can look like to be “missionaries” in church. But let’s take it a step further as check our own consumeristic tendencies at the door: how can we serve, even if we’re not scheduled to this week?
This question is a challenge for me because when I’m not “scheduled” to lead in some way, the default mindset that takes over is that I get to “sit back and just enjoy” today. It is so good for the leaders of a church to not need to lead every single Sunday. Hear me say that. But the response of “just enjoying” is often rooted in what we can get out of church rather than what God might be doing in and through our gathering. So here’s the invitation I would make to you reading this: do you have a sense for what’s happening when you gather to worship God? I want to suggest some questions for you to help you answer that question more fully.
If I were to see someone with the “deer in the headlights look,” would I know what to do? Radical welcome and hospitality is one of the great gifts of the Kingdom, and consequently is one of most effective apologetics for the Gospel. Don’t overlook what a simple hello, handshake, and invitation can do for someone who is new.
Do I have the space to act on the first question? You might be like me and have to constantly fight to say “yes” to this question. But I promise that it’s worth fighting for.
Assuming that this new person wants to enter into the rhythms of Church life with us, what would their first step be? This is one of the most overlooked questions for churches, but also one of the most important. You probably won’t have a one-size-fits-all answer, but having something in your back pocket is better than nothing.
Who are the people that these people should meet? C.S Lewis described the everyday people we interact with like this: “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal…it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” It is a delight to introduce a new friend to another, especially in this light of eternity.
Who are the other people I/we can invite into this work? I hope and pray that you won’t do this work alone. So don’t. Who are the other people — other significant relationships you have, or others who are sympathetic to these thoughts — you can take these steps with you?
These steps are simple, but I never said they were easy. If you’re taking them, I would love to hear how its going.