Visitors Welcome… Sorta
Guest writing today on the Cross Church School of Ministry blog is Nathan Miller. Nathan is serving with the Cross Church School of Ministry as a resident minister this year. Nathan is from Fayetteville, Arkansas, and he is on the CCSM Pastoral Ministry track.
In Fayetteville, Arkansas, there is an annual motorcycle rally called Bikes, Blues, and BBQ. It’s advertised as being the second largest motorcycle rally in the U.S. with over 400,000 attendees. The City of Fayetteville puts up different signs throughout the town that say “Welcome Bikers! Please Ride Quietly.”
I’ve always thought that sign seemed a little out of place. Essentially, the town is saying to these bikers, these people who have travelled from all over the country to stay in Fayetteville’s hotels, eat in its restaurants, and buy its merchandise: “We’re glad you’re here, but we wish you weren’t bikers.” Saying that bikers are welcome, but they can’t be loud is like telling a concert crowd not to sing along with the band. It’s what makes them who they are. The city is sending mixed messages; you can’t welcome the bikers without welcoming the noise.
How often do churches send these same messages to unbelievers, the very people we say we’re trying to reach?
We at ABC Church are passionate about reaching the next generation (as long as they enjoy our organ music and unofficial dress code).
QRS Church wants to see people of all tribes, tongues, and nations in our city become a part of our congregation (but they should sit in their own section, with their own people, and be still while they’re singing).
Here at XYZ Church we care for the least of these and the chief among sinners most of all (unless they have tattoos or require a smoke break).
The early church tried to do this too. Gentiles began to join the ranks of new believers in Acts 10, and the Jews that made up the church weren’t sure if that was allowed. God had to give Peter a vision to convince them that Gentiles could be Christians too. And once they were on board with that idea, they wanted the Gentiles to be circumcised like the Jews after they converted. They were able to go along with the idea that outsiders are allowed, but only as long as they immediately stopped looking and acting like outsiders.
Gentiles are more than welcome to become a part of the body here at The Early Church (after they all get circumcised).
This was such a big issue among the first Christians that Paul addressed circumcision in almost every book of the Bible he wrote. He was repeatedly arguing against the idea that new converts had to change to outwardly look like the older converts as soon as they became believers. He had to tell them in Colossians 3:9-11 to put off the old self and put on the new self because “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” And then he had to make the same point to the church in Galatia, saying, “neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation (Galatians 6:15).”
Any outward, physical test that we try to apply to new believers can never be sufficient, and it only goes to show that we believe in a works-based righteousness that can never save us. It is by grace through faith that we have all been saved, and once we are saved, yes, we are called to holiness. But confusing the way we look and act with holiness of the heart will only crush the wills of the people we are trying to reach.
If we want people that aren’t like us in our churches, we have to let them continue to be who God made them to be as long as their actions are not outright sinful. Young people might like the music a little louder than others, and if that’s all it takes to make them feel welcome, then let’s blow-out some speakers. Some people might like to move a little while they sing, and if that helps them worship in spirit and in truth, then maybe we should join in. We all just need to let go of these rules that we’ve made up for how people in our congregations are supposed to dress or look, and hold fast to the biblical commands for unity in the body of Christ and being all things to all people that we might save some. Matters of preference should fall away in the light of Christ, and when we truly walk in grace, we are able to be truly welcoming because we have moved past what makes us comfortable for the sake of the Great Commission.
“Welcome Bikers! Please Ride Quietly” should never be the message we send to visitors in our churches. Instead, it should be a message that welcomes them as they are, without requiring them to meet our expectations of what kind of person they have to act like to be welcomed into our churches. How about we go with something like “Welcome Bikers! Can I Have a Ride?” Or maybe even “Welcome Bikers! We’re Glad You’re Here!”