The church as a radical welcoming community

The church as a radical welcoming community

I want you to think about your friends for a moment. Who do you spend time with the most? What kind of people do you most easily call your friends? For most of us, our friends are actually quite similar to ourselves. University students tend to spend time with other university students. Mothers of young children spend the little time for friends they have at playgrounds with other mothers while they watch their children play. Retired people tend to spend time with other retired people. We are naturally most comfortable with those we are most like.

Now think about the church family you are part of. Who do you spend time with from your church? If you only do what comes naturally from outside church, you will likely still spend time with people like yourself. Teenagers tend to hang around together. Older people talk to older people. Singles talk to singles, and married people to married people.

Surely that’s not good enough, right? Matthew explains what the church community should be like in Matthew 18. He tells us to humble ourselves like little children. That means to see others as more important than ourselves. And this leads to an important application:

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me” (Matt. 18:5 ESV)

This is not only speaking about literal children. Jesus has just told his adult disciples that they needed to become humble like little children to be in the kingdom of heaven. So the “child” in v5 is any Christian, not just a child.

What Jesus calls his disciples to do is “receive” other Christians. That seems a little awkward in English, but the idea is to welcome them, to befriend them. Other Christians are important to God and they should be important to us as well. But the key idea is to welcome other Christians “in my name”. That means we don’t welcome other Christians because they are ‘our kind of people’, people we naturally feel comfortable with. No, any Christian, whoever they are, should be welcomed by the family of God.

That means that if all of the people we talk to and share meals with at church are like us, we are not being the community we should be. The church should be a place where everyone is welcome and feels welcome. At church gatherings, we should see older people speaking to teenagers, men speaking to women, singles speaking to marrieds, and those with children speaking to those who do not. Being a Christian should make us humble and break down walls and divisions that the world puts up. All of us are sinners who don’t deserve to be saved but have been by God’s grace. That means that we are equal in God’s sight. Preachers are not more important because they have a specific gift, and the more outgoing are not more important because they are comfortable talking to people.

So next time you spend time with your church family, look for someone different to you to talk to. Speak to someone at least a decade older or younger than you, someone from a very different culture, someone with a very different personality. If we all do this, we will be closer to the community Jesus describes in Matthew 18.

We should never be divided into demographic groups simply because it is easier for us; let’s be radically welcoming to whichever “little child” is part of our church families.