On Palm Sunday, we looked at the occasion when Jesus cleared the temple in Jerusalem just days before he would be crucified (Mark 11:15-17). We noticed how the money changers, the people selling doves, and the people cutting through the temple where all making it incredibly difficult for worshippers of all nations to draw near to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The one place that was supposed to welcome all peoples to God (Isaiah 56:1-7) had been turned into a den of thieves (Jeremiah 7:1-11). Not only were people being robbed financially, they were also being robbed access to God.
In our age, God no longer dwells in a temple of stone as he did in Old Testament times; rather, God now dwells within and amongst his people. As believers, the Holy Spirit now dwells within us; this means our individual bodies are now living temples of the one true God (1 Corinthians 6:19). And as individual Christians gather together, each local church—collectively—is also a temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2:22; 1 Peter 2:5). Therefore, just as the temple of old was meant to be a localized place where people of all backgrounds could draw near to the Lord, without being taken advantage of and without being robbed access to God, local churches today (the body of believers, not the buildings) are meant to be as welcoming as possible to anyone and everyone that God might be drawing to himself.
This calls us to clear out whatever might be in our hearts that makes it difficult for others to see God within us and among us. In the positive, this also calls us to do everything that should be done to ensure all peoples are welcomed to hear the gospel being preached and respond to God's transformative grace in their lives. This doesn't mean sin issues should be ignored. We still deal with sin issues in loving and gentle ways, especially as it pertains to members of the church. After all, the theme of church discipline applies to church members, not the unbelieving world (Matthew 18:15-17).
So, what can gathered churches do to make sure they are welcoming everyone that God is drawing to himself? Here are two suggestions:
Our starting point is with Christlike love. In the same way Jesus has loved us—selflessly and sacrificially—we also ought to love one another and others (John 13:34-35). This goes beyond the call to be warm and kind, although warmth and kindness are certainly aspects of Christlike love. The hallmark of Christ's love, however, is the selfless aspect of his pursuit of us. Sacrifice will always be implied whenever we are talking about the love of Jesus!
We have to ask ourselves: How could we move beyond warm affection? How could we be welcoming through displays of selflessness, as well? For our church gatherings, this might mean simple things like selflessly giving up our favorite seats or singing songs that aren't our preferred style of songs, all for the sake of welcoming everyone that God might be drawing to himself. In fact, selfless love is the reason why we're all still wearing facemasks in our church gatherings amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As a reflection of Christ's love, we selflessly set aside personal comfort to ensure everyone's safety. And even if science would one day indicate that face coverings cannot do anything against the spread of viruses, we could still wear our face coverings as a loving way to make sure everyone at least feels safe, because Christlike love will always involve selflessness.
We cannot talk about selfless love without talking about service. The two go hand-in-hand. When Jesus went to the cross for us, he served us in the most selfless of ways (Mark 10:45). This implies that our individual service within the church comes with a degree of sacrifice. Serving one Sunday a month in kids ministry, volunteering with our AWANA Clubs or our youth group, hosting a small group or a Bible study, committing to the music team and carving out time from our schedules for rehearsals, setting up the communion table, setting up church-wide events, lending a hand at a church cleanup day, serving in an outreach event—these all involve a spirit of selflessness.
But notice, as well, that service involves everyone in the church! God has gifted us in ways that we all need each other as we grow toward maturity in Christ. No one person has all the gifts nor all the abilities (1 Corinthians 12:29). As the body of Christ, each member has an important role (1 Corinthians 12:27). And as the living temple of God, this means the church is not meant to be lost in consumerism, where individual members of the whole gather to only be served. We must ask ourselves: How has God gifted me? What abilities has God given me? And how could I serve others with those gifts and abilities? Are you good at teaching? Showing hospitality? Helping? Encouraging? Showing mercy? Decorating? Do you have administrative abilities? Evangelistic abilities? Preaching abilities? Technological abilities? Musical abilities? Handyman abilities? Are you extroverted? Introverted? Do you like working visibly or behind the scenes? In short, how has God made you, and how could you serve others—even newcomers—according to how God has made you?
If there is one encouragement I can give you, it's this: Don't bury your talents and abilities. Don't be only a consumer. Prayerfully seek out ways to be involved in serving others lovingly, selflessly, and according to your gifts. The more we all do this, the more welcoming we will be. And the more welcoming we are, the less we'll obstruct those whom God is drawing to himself.
Let's be that kind of church!