Some time back, at Easter and just after the opening of The Passion of the Christ – when the church I attend was still committed to consistently beginning its worship with a greeting and call to worship and prayer; it no longer is – I was asked to word that greeting. It occurred to me how much of a challenge that really is, especially when there are many guests and visitors expected.
Many are not Christians, and they see Christians at work and elsewhere pretty much as people like themselves. But, if they gather in a building with religious purposes, Christians start doing a lot of really strange things … like aliens from a different world entirely. Our guests and visitors have no way of knowing how right they are to perceive us that way!
I took a cue from a brother whom I very much respect, who once gave a greeting that closed with an encouragement for visitors to ask the ministers or elders later about anything that took place during the service that they weren’t familiar with.
I decided to front-load the explanation as concisely as I could, and this – from the handwritten notes I just rediscovered in my briefcase – is what I said:
“Three years ago on a Sunday morning before Christmas, I was privileged to call this congregation to worship and I spoke of Christ coming to earth as ‘God’s most extravagant gift.’ I think those of us who experienced the movie The Passion of the Christ this week now have a very graphic picture of how much that gift cost. And even though the movie is peppered with moments you won’t find in Scripture or this church’s traditions, I would have to say that it is a powerful witness.
“If you are visiting with us, the family of Christ here welcomes you. If you’re with us for the first time,perhaps because you were invited by friends to the movie showing, you have probably already figured out that they asked because they love you – not just for yourself – but because you (like all of us) are someone for whom Christ died.
“You may notice that we do some things differently than other churches and fellowships. We will celebrate communion this morning, as we do every week, remembering – as Jesus asked – His body broken like bread for us, and His blood which flowed like wine for us.
“We’ll read from the Bible, to hear what God says to us through it.
“We’ll hear a message of encouragement from our preaching minister.
“We’ll sing praises together and share in the blessing of fellowship in song without any musical instruments, seeking to worship simply from the heart. Some of us feel strongly about this, and others do not. What we all agree is that God, His Son and His Holy Spirit deserve our praise.
“We will take a few moments to offer gifts to God that support the work of this church and many other ministries all over the world. If you’re visiting, we don’t want to discourage you from giving from the heart just as we all seek to do, but please don’t feel pressured or compelled to do so.
“If you have any question about anything you experience here this morning – or anything you saw and heard at the movie showing – or anything that’s troubling you, please feel free to ask. We’ll study and pray and struggle with you until your heart is at rest on the matter.
“I honestly don’t know whether it is by chance or God’s design, but our year-and-a-half study of the Gospel of John on Sunday mornings brings us today to the events chronicled in the movie The Passion. Our minister’s message this morning is titled ‘The Most Immoral Act of All.’
“Now let’s begin our worship together speaking to God in prayer through the intercession of His Son Jesus, and the interpretation of His Spirit for the things we have no words to say.”
Then I led a brief prayer. Looking back, there are things I probably would have phrased differently; some I might omit entirely.
But I still think that in our greeting time as gathered Christians we should remember – at least from time to time – to show hospitality to the aliens and strangers among us.
That must surely be how they regard us.