Think about the church you are a part of and the culture of that church. I’ve never visited a church that the people there didn’t think of themselves as a friendly church. I’ve asked members of tons of different churches through the years, “How would you describe the church here?” Almost, without fail people will say about the church they are describing is that we are a very friendly church. Sometimes, I’ve gone ahead to ask, “Exactly what do you mean by that?” Usually, I get very puzzled looks with that question and a wide variety of answers. Most of the time if you keep digging for an answer to what we mean by saying the church is friendly, you will get to the point that they are very friendly to each other and treat each other very well, and are nice to anyone who visits if they have a close relationship with some other members. I’ve never known of a church that described itself as unfriendly. Have you? Yet how many times have you visited a church and felt isolated, and that you were not really welcome?
Imagine going to a church where you know no one. You simply look up the address of the church and the times of their worship and show up. Several times we’ve done so, and several times we’ve had friends or family members with us who were not of the same religious persuasion. Sometimes when we made such visits we were simply ignored and treated as though we didn’t really belong there. If anyone spoke at all you had to engage them rather than them making any effort to make you feel welcome. At other times people have been so friendly and welcoming that we would talk about how accepting they were and that it must be a joy to be a member there.
Every church is different and they all react to visitors in different ways. What if you could create the ideal church that demonstrated such friendliness that you felt welcome, at home, and accepted even before you got inside the doors? What would it take to have such an environment? Let’s face it, a church is nothing but an accumulation of people and the culture of the church is whatever the heart and spirit are of the people who worship there. When you read the different letters to churches in the New Testament it is obvious that they are all very different from any of the other churches talked about. Think of the seven churches of Asia that are mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3. These are all congregations from the same area of the world. They were all from the same background. They were all part of the same country and the same government. The reality is they were not very far apart. Only a few miles separated some from others. Yet, when you read these two chapters about these seven churches, it stands out that they were dealing with very different situations, problems, and opportunities. None of the seven letters were interchangeable. The problems, opportunities, and blessings in each church was totally different from the same things in the church in the next town.
I don’t suppose that should be surprising since you find a totally different culture in visiting different homes and families in the same village and in the same family. I’ve been surprised on both sides of this point. I’ve been amazed in visiting in the homes of two sisters or two brothers in different parts of the country. You might have known one brother or sister in one state and enjoyed their hospitality and the word got out you were going to a particular area in a very different state and that person comes to you to say their sister lives in the place you are visiting and they are going to tell them you are going to be there and to invite you over. You go to the person’s home to visit in the different place. I’ve had the experience of feeling just like I was back in the other place visiting with the sister they were so much alike. But I’ve had the experience of feeling like these two people can’t possibly be related. They are so totally different from each other that you think to yourself, “How in the world can these two people be related?”
I think it is the same with churches. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, sharing the same Father, the same older brother in Jesus and the same Holy Spirit to indwell us and guide us. Yet two churches doing the same things in worship and teaching the same gospel message can be so different from each other that you can’t believe there is any relationship. I try always to remind myself that there is something good about this whole thing. Since people are very different from each other, it takes a different environment for people who are different from each other to feel accepted, loved and a part of the family.
One thing is certain if we are disciples of Jesus, and we are truly following Him in daily life, we ought to become more like him all the time. Jesus’ favorite command was “Follow me”. He declared to Andrew and Peter, James and John, “Come after me and I will make you become fishers of men.” If we are following him, we become more like him and the result is we become all the more interested in leading others to become his disciples as well. Paul would say, “Follow me as I also follow Christ.” That, I believe, should describe the very nature or culture of every church. We should all be trying to become more like Jesus and be constantly leading others to become more like him as well. We should be disciples who are sold out to the cause of making other disciples. Notice, this doesn’t make us look like one another. Peter, Andrew, James, and John were all close followers of Jesus but they were very different from each other. Yet they all looked more and more like Jesus all the time and were completely given to the plan of leading others to follow Him as well.
When I’m back home in Alabama it is pretty common for me to see someone who says, “You look more like your dad every time I see you.” I hope and pray I am looking more like Jesus every day as well. God, please help me to be that disciple who is always helping someone else become Jesus’ disciple as well. If that is my vision, it will lead to friendliness both in our home and in the church where we worship God.