Jump Start # 2087
Luke 15:2 “Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”
We continue our series on impressions, becoming a welcoming church. A congregation can clean up both the insides and the outsides of their church building. They can hang nice signs. They can spruce up the landscaping. They can stream line the announcements. They can put page numbers of the pew Bibles on the screen. All wonderful ideas that we have explored in this series. But there remains one colossal idea that beats all the others. Do all the others and forget this, and you’ll fail to become a welcoming church. It comes down to how we treat visitors.
Our verse today, taken before the powerful parables of Jesus about lost things, shows how the Pharisees viewed those who were different than they were. They grumbled. They didn’t like it. Jesus’ reply to them was the three parables of lost sheep, coin and boys. God cares for the lost. He never said, ‘you got lost on your own, find your own way back.’ Rather, the shepherd went looking. The woman swept the house. The father kept his eye on the horizon. God never gave up on finding what was lost.
As we think about inviting folks to come and worship with us, there are some things that we must remember. Forgetting this, spells disaster. Forgetting this hurts feelings and ruins chances of anyone every coming back again.
First, people of the world belong to the world. They dress like the world. Understand this. Patience is the key. So someone shows up one Sunday morning, as they walk into the building, they flip a cigarette out on the sidewalk. Someone sees that. Red flags go up. They smell of smoke. Immediately, some shun, ignore and walk on past this visitor.
Someone else comes for a visit. They carry a cup of coffee with them. It’s all very normal for them. Where they go to church, they even sell coffee. Someone sees that. Red flags go up. Immediately, some shun, ignore and walk past the visitor.
Someone else comes for a visit. They are wearing shorts and flip flops. It’s what they wear in the summer. Someone sees that. Red flags go up. Immediately, some shun, some ignore and walk past the visitor. People whisper. People look at them. The tension level rises. Although the lesson is about the love and compassion of Jesus, it’s not felt by these visitors. They didn’t know. They weren’t told. They don’t understand.
Someone goes up to them and lets it be known that they are not dressed appropriately. They are told that this is not a coffee shop. They are told to stop smoking. The member speaks his mind and walks away. The stunned visitor doesn’t even know who it is that spoke to them. Embarrassed, they leave. They leave with the promise to never return again. They leave thinking that this place is unloving and judgmental. They leave with hurt feelings and they leave without knowing Jesus. The member who corrected them feels good about his actions. He kept the place in order as he thinks it should be. If they don’t come back, he tells others, they simply don’t love the Lord. Really?
Herein lies some great problems.
First, we can’t expect people of the world to live by the rules of Christianity when they don’t know Christ. Correcting them about their appearance, drinking coffee or smoking misses the big picture. These are surface issues. People of the world are not going to dress nor act like Christians. Once there was a guy who was so excited about getting some free material, that he uttered a loud cuss word. He was happy. Everyone looked. We aren’t used to people cussing in the church building. People of the world aren’t used to not cussing.
Tattoos, piercings, rough language, couples that are living together, some who are addicts, jobless—that’s the world we live in today. Stop looking for the nice couple with two kids and a dog and a paid off house. Look who came to Jesus. It was the demon possessed, the lepers, and as our passage shows, “the sinners.” Who is it that needs the physician? The sick. Spiritual sickness can look messy. It comes with layers of issues and lots of baggage. So, we need to stop expecting people of the world to act like Christians. Be patient with them. Be kind to them. Pay a little attention to them, and they may just find what they were looking for, compassion, acceptance and hope. Telling anyone that they are not welcome is more than unloving, it lacks Christ. A couple shows up and they are divorced multiple times. Do you have the right to say to them, “you can’t come here?” Is that something that Jesus would do?
Second, even with new Christians, there is a growth period. It takes time to learn things and get over things that are wrong. Habits can be deep within us. The older some get, the grumpier some become. Don’t be that way. Long ago, you had to learn. Instead of being critical, be helpful. Instead of pointing the radar gun, extend a hand. I’ve heard young Christians say the “wrong things” in prayer. If that isn’t handled correctly, the young Christian could be crushed by criticism. He may never lead a public prayer again, and worse, he may just quit all together. I knew a teenager that passed the Lord’s Supper wearing flip flops. It was noticed. Some complained. Some complained to me. I declared that his shoes were more like Jesus’ than mine. He could have been behind the building smoking dope. Instead, he was serving in the kingdom. I was happy to have him. That shocked some who were looking for support in their complaints. One person said, “Jesus shoes? Well, I’ve never heard such thinking like that before.” Too many young preachers have been destroyed by insensitive and impatient brethren who expected perfection. Don’t be like that. Be the friend and the mentor that makes a real difference in someone’s life.
Third, be patient and people will learn. I’ve seen some hold their hands up during prayer. Nothing wrong with that. I’ve seen some talking out during the sermon. I’ve seen some bowing when everyone else was standing. I was preaching at one place, and every time I took a breath, a lady would say very loudly, “Yes, Jesus.” She must have “yes Jesus” a hundred times. Now, I could have just stopped and declared, “Only one of us is going to preach.” I could have made a scene and made her feel terrible. But I didn’t. I just preached away. Was she wrong in doing that? I didn’t think much about it. I was glad that she was listening.
We want visitors. We love company on Sundays. However, you have to know what you’re going to get. Rather than sticking your nose up in the air and running them off, learn to love them. Learn to listen to them. Don’t avoid them. Don’t walk away from them. Someday, that very person that disgusts you now, may get up and preach the pure message of Jesus Christ! Invite a visitor to sit with you.
Just as I am…remember that song? Not cleaned up and wearing a tie. Not all my faults ironed out. Just as I am. That may be a mess. That may need a lot of work. But, that’s what we sing and it’s supposed to be what we believe.