If church is not a place for the newcomers?
My wife and I took a break from our newly planted church in Guwahati a month ago and spent three weeks with our mother church in Kathmandu before traveling to Seoul to spend a few more weeks with our son. While in Seoul, we wanted to have this time for ourselves without any ministry engagements.
On our first Sunday here in Seoul, instead of attending our son’s regular church, we asked him to find a place where we could worship anonymously. Three of us agreed that even if the church asks newcomers to stand up to introduce, we will remain seated. After spending some time in the internet, we found one that felt good to try. The direction was clear; found it easily and got there 15 minutes ahead of time. Doors to the sanctuary however did not open until five minutes before starting. That was a problem. As we were loitering around, a kind lady informed us that there was a café on the upper floor where we could wait for the doors to be opened. Just as we entered the cafe, a friend who used to attend our church years back in Daejeon greeted us from nowhere. There went our anonymity.
Service began with two upbeat songs that were new to us but the third song brought us right into the presence of God. Over all, the worship was good. Even the written congregational prayer that was read did not dampen my charismatic spirit. Guest speaker gave us a beautiful message. Announcements were short, introduction quick, and the service was over within an hour and a half. The newcomers were simply asked to stand up first before everyone stood with them for the benediction. As were were heading out, my son agreed that it’s a nice place to come for worship. There was not one boring moment during the entire time we were there and as a pastor, this was something to cherish.
The only thing that bothered me was that if we had not run into our friend, we cold have returned home from the church without ever speaking to another soul in the church of nearly 150 to 200 members. Yes, it was what we were looking for. But imagine if we were a family looking for God or something more in life than what the world offers. Imagine if someone had told us that the church is the place to go for anyone facing the problems of life in this world, and no one at the church paid attention. Yes, there was an announcement for the newcomers to follow a person to a certain room after the service. Yet, it was the newcomers’ responsibility to find that person. Nor was there any explanation as why should the newcomers meet that person. What if, if the newcomers simply decided to follow the crowd out of the church thinking a temple would be a better place? Temples in Korea are wonderful places for solitary meditation and contemplation.
Indeed, the pastor and even the leaders may not be able to meet every newcomer but the members sitting in close proximity to the newcomers have more opportunities to demonstrate the character of Christ than the leaders or the pastor standing by the door. In order for a church to become a welcoming and hospitable place for the newcomers, it is better to err in the side of annoying an anonymous pastor’s family like ours by asking some personal questions than simply ignoring the newcomers who might be looking for someone to ask them a genuine ‘how are you?’. A friendly handshake, a smiling face, and a genuine interest in the newcomers by the members of a local church can and will make a huge difference in the life of any newcomer. Imagine if there was no Barnabas in Jerusalem, what would have happened to Saul of Tarsus? The unpredictable Peter, the contemplative John, and everyone was busy for something while Barnabas met with Paul, listened to his story and stood by him even while others wanted nothing to do with him.
Therefore, the makeup of a local church is the key in extending life or death and heaven or hell to a vast sea of humanity passing its door/gate/neon-light/signboard everyday in its neighborhood. That is why Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). His church must be strong enough to withstand the attacks coming from the gates of hell. But it also must be able to withstand the attacks coming from the galls of men causing it to have stains, wrinkles, spots and blemishes. Jesus is in the business of building a mighty church that is holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:27); a church that is light and salt in a dark and decaying world (Matt. 5:13–16).
However, Jesus has delegated his earthly ministry of building his church to his disciples. As the great shepherd, he has appointed his under-shepherds, the pastors, to look after his church that is being built by every living stone. Every believer in Christ is the living stone in building this living house in which God dwells by his Holy Spirit. Just as a pastor’s role is crucial in the church, so is also the role of every believer. If a believer comes to church only for his or her own spiritual needs to be met, that person is failing to be the kind of living stone Jesus wanted. Every believer is to be a minister in one form or another. He or she comes to church not for self but for God and for fellow believers; to minister unto God and also unto God’s children. When this happens, the church becomes an attractive place for people who are lost in a dark and dying world.