Tuesday, June 23, 2009

We are visitors (part 8)

...People shouldn’t have to learn a new language to come into a relationship with God.  There were two types of Greek language in use in Jesus’ day: that of business and politics –- basically “high-brow” Greek.  Then there was the other, more “earthy” type used for everyday things such as shopping, conversation, etc.  This is what Jesus and the Gospel writers used. (See THE MESSAGE introduction to The New Testament)

It was important to them to connect with their hearers.  They understood that if we don’t connect with them, our message won’t either.  We need to do those things that enable us to get the Word of God deep into the heart of those that attend our services.

Another thought, we need to use inclusive language, rather than language that separates… sinners, saved, heathen and pagan are all words that serve to reinforce the stereotype of Christianity as a religion of snobs.  I don’t see the Jesus of the Bible using this type of language, except with the self-righteous Pharisees and Teachers of the Law.  Actually, the “sinners” loved hanging out with Him, as He did with them.

We need to make our language as welcoming as possible without compromising the truth of the Word of God.  We want to remove anything that will detract from the life-changing message of the Cross.  We want to do everything we can to help people to discover the goodness of God… that’s what will lead them to repentance!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

We are visitors (part 7)

We have found that a church’s vocabulary is extremely important when it comes to the welcome factor.  The language used inside many churches is incredibly different from that in the outside world.

We live in southern Germany, just across the border from Basel, Switzerland.  The Swiss speak what is called “Swiss German”, which started out as High German, but has evolved into a separate language that most Germans can’t understand.

It’s the same way in most churches… they use a language that is so different that most visitors don’t understand it.  Many pastors, teachers and church leaders have been in church so long that they speak a language that I call “God talk”.  Besides the all-too-common “Hallelujahs”, “Glorys” and “Praise the Lords”, they talk about “who you are in Christ”, and use words such as righteousness, holiness, sanctification and other such words as if everyone should know what they mean.  But these often only serve to remind visitors that they are outsiders.

I’m not against these words… you’ll find them all throughout the Bible!  But we need to think through how to put spiritual principles into common everyday language.  The best way to do this is through illustrations/object lessons/word pictures.  And we need to explain biblical words such a "Hallelujah"…

Friday, June 19, 2009

The power of relationships

“So they [the descendants of Dan] took the things that Micah had made, along with his priest, and they arrived at Laish, that city of quiet and unsuspecting people. They massacred the people and burned down the city. There was no one around to help. They were a long way from Sidon and had no treaty with the Arameans...” – (Judges 18:27-28)

I read this yesterday and it hit me how vulnerable we become when we allow ourselves to become isolated. Why do we become isolated?

  • We shut down due to disappointment, hurt, betrayal, etc.
  • We are too busy or exhausted to invest in relationships.
  • We are too insecure or fearful to open up to others.

Allowing these or any other reason to keep us from developing our relationships will put us in a place where we are vulnerable to attack, depression, exhaustion, self-pity, self-defeating tendencies, and a myriad of other problems.

Relationships are the most valuable things we have!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

We are visitors (part 6)

Often a church is bound to the personal style of the worship leader. Most musicians can’t see past their personal musical preferences to the big picture of the people God wants them to reach. Worship leaders and their teams need to grow up and embrace the big picture.
Many church leaders also forget that bad music can turn off visitors. Being a worship leader myself, this point is really close to my heart. We need to do the best we can with what we have, but we always want to keep raising the bar in every area of our church. After all, we are representing the God of excellence!
In other words, don’t just let someone keep playing/singing because they’ve been there for a long time, or because they love to do it. And keeping them on the team because they are a VIP (or married to one) is wrong. They need to have both talent and character.
Keeping a person in a place outside of their gifting is a lose/lose proposition, especially when it comes to music. No one that is musically talented want to be a part of a bad sounding worship team. Trust me, the congregation notices as well… and is probably wondering why it sounds so bad every week.

We are visitors (part 5)

One of the more “controversial” thoughts we have about visitors is concerning the worship style. One thing pastors and church leaders need to remember is that your music can either draw or repel visitors. It is a very up-front representation of your church. Whether your worship music style is country & western, rock & roll, pop, or even heavy metal, it attracts, and conversely, repels people, depending on their personal tastes.

You can’t make everyone happy… that is a given. But we need to be intentional in the style of music in our services. This is not a substance issue; it’s a style issue. As Eric Bryant says, “Style must always submit to Spirit.”

Most pastors are so used to church music, especially their own church’s music, that they forget what it’s like to be a visitor. If the music is straight out of the 70’s, the church will probably draw more senior citizens than young people. This isn’t wrong, but if you want to reach families, especially those with younger children, you have to adjust the style of your music to that which is comfortable to them.

We are visitors (part 4)

The next thing we found strange was the way we were treated after the service

In one service, as soon as the service was over, all the regulars went straight to the coffee bar for “fellowship.” Everyone had been invited (from the pulpit) to get a cup of coffee and get to know others.

This was the same church that ignored us as we were trying to find the Children’s Church. We thought maybe they could redeem themselves after the rough introduction we got from their church.
As we made our way to the coffee bar (after picking up our kids), we noticed it was pretty full of people. We thought this would be the perfect opportunity to get to know some of the people. Boy, were we in for a rude awakening!

The people formed a semi-circle around the coffee bar area. There would have been room for us to get through if someone had moved over to one side a bit. But no… that would have inconvenienced someone. And they were busy “fellowshipping.” We just stood there for about 30 secs, holding our kids’ hands, staring at the coffee bar from a distance, hoping someone would get the hint. No such luck.

We finally just left, deciding to never give them a second chance. Even my kids noticed how “unwelcomed” we were. I have mentioned a church’s BRAND before – what people are saying about the church, both insiders and outsiders. This church’s brand seemed to be “we take care of our own!” This is great if you’re part of the inner circle. Outsiders are just out of luck!

My point is this… the few minutes immediately after a service give us a PRIME OPPORTUNITY to welcome and connect with visitors. If we’ll capitalize on this, we can reap rich benefits! We have to both teach and model the value of visitors in our churches. Many churches work very hard to get visitors, it seems stupid to devalue them once they actually come!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

We are visitors (part 3)

Another thing we found amusing, although detrimental was the greeter ministry in many of the churches we visited. Most church leaders seem to understand the importance of making people feel welcome, but this understanding doesn’t trickle down to the congregation.

In most of the churches we visited, we were greeted with a warm handshake and a “Hello” or “Welcome” at the door. The greeters were doing their job. But that’s where the welcome ended.
It was as if the church members expected the greeters – the professionals – to welcome the people. Everyone else was just there to enjoy the service. In one church we had to ask three different people where to find the Children’s Church service ministry.

We were wandering around with our “deer in the headlights” look, holding the hands of our two daughters who were obviously the right age for this ministry. We were either ignored or given a token smile by the church workers who were busy preparing for the service.

We have to remember what’s important: We exist for the people, they don’t exist for us! We have to train our workers – in whatever area, even the janitorial staff – that the people aren’t in the way. On the contrary, they are honored guests… and that includes the regular church attenders.
So often we get so caught up in what we’re doing that we forget to notice the people around us – people that may be hurting or needing affirmation or even a genuine smile and welcome. Our people can minister BEFORE and AFTER the service, if we’ll just train them to do so. I’m so thankful that Jesus was willing to be interrupted – even in the middle of a church service!

One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that my job isn’t to direct them to someone else (“Go talk to that guy over there…”). I personally take people to the other person and introduce them… “Joe, this is _________. She’s interested in ___________. Can you help her?”

Do you see the difference between the two approaches? One is simply fulfilling a job description. The other is showing respect and concern. We can’t afford to treat the precious people God has given us with anything less than the dignity He has invested in them.

We have to train our people!