I work as an intern for iNVERSION and have been recently contemplating one of our passions in this exciting ministry: welcoming. As I learn from the team here at iNVERSION, channel my own experiences, and seek God’s Word for examples and teachings, I have been struck by a particular focus which I think could be useful for the modern church to set: that of individual embrace and calling.
Unfortunately, the first thing that comes to mind when I think of being welcoming, is Starbucks. Starbucks, which I have worked for, lists “Welcoming” as one of its core values. And sadly the main difference between the “business” of church and the business of coffee is that there is far less demand for church as we know it. All our attempts to attract new pew warmers by means of flashy design, performance and catchy slogans are proven failures, for people are leaving the church in droves.
But maybe this is a blessing; for church was never meant to be a business. All our attempts to lure people into our church with a show at best steals members from other churches; like wide eyed kids on the 4th of July going from one fireworks display to another. For our world no longer believes they are sinful and if they believe in God at all, he is a personal manifestation which a church service would only distort. We at iN are interested in bringing in the unchurched and dechurched; those who have never grasped the beauty of being part of the body of Christ. So how can we be different?
How can we, the Church, embrace the spiritually bankrupt and wanderers. I have just noted that church cannot lure the masses because our content is not something they feel they need: namely forgiveness from sins they do not know they have committed by a God they hardly (if at all) believe in. But maybe the real problem is not even in the “lure” part of that equation, for at some level (human beings do feel their sin) but in the idea of the “masses.” For although there are certainly cases of mass revival in the Bible and beyond, I’m not sure the gospel can always be effective as a common denominator catch-all.
A phrase we like to use at iN is that we are an “every member mission.” This phrase implies how we should view welcoming. Rather than using the methods of mass seduction to bring people in to our community, we are inspired by the idea of individual calling. Even though the ideas of God’s love and salvation are universal, we are separated from God through pride. We think we don’t need God’s love (the pride of self-sufficiency) or that we are too dirty for God to save us (the pride of doubting God’s sufficiency). So many of us feel that this general embrace of welcome somehow does not apply to us. I know I have felt this way.
So now we get to a seemingly tricky issue: how to stress a certain type of individualism in a world that is choking on self-centeredness. Our society is self-absorbed to such an extent that each of its members are encouraged to create individual, self-contained universes. The idea that self is infinite has closed us off to an infinite God, thus imprisoning us all the more soundly in our finiteness. But there is a nearness to truth in their misconception. The answer to this problem is not simply “getting over ourselves” and teaching others to do the same. Because we ARE connected with the infinite. The problem is we understand neither God nor ourselves. The Christian community should be a community of deep interest in the inner life: both our own and that of others. Our society does not get universal ideas like divine love and salvation. And of course they NEED to get these things. But think of God’s incarnate love for us: Jesus often confronted people individually, with specific knowledge and care for each of them. People need to see a world outside themselves, but one of the best ways they can experience this is through a God that reaches into their inner self, their most private thoughts and secret characteristics and yet still expresses his love for them. Though God loves “the world” and everyone in it, he wants to shake us individually, to love us individually and to give us a unique role in His church. We as a church spend way too much time trying to attract the masses and too little time getting to know the individual. As we convey God’s love for people we free them from their relativistic prisons. Our sick obsession with self is ironically cured as we realize how much God loves us.
To begin to convey this love we must learn to truly listen to each other and learn each other’s stories. As we unravel each other’s intricate paths of beauty and deep scarring we gradually bring each other into the cleansing light of God’s grace and can encourage each other in our gifts and insights. 1 Corinthians 4:5 says “Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then EACH man’s praise will come to him from God.”
At iN I have truly seen the staff and so many regular members longing to know each other. We must continue in this. Listen to people. Do not stereotype. Do not be content after a conversation or two. Our commitment to knowing each other and a fascination in each soul God has personally knit together is one of our greatest avenues of witness.
Let us stop competing with the masses and start showing God’s love by taking the time and energy to know individuals. Because at Starbucks (and many churches attempting to copy this model) I am invited to be caffeinated and comforted for a small price. In a true, thriving community of believers, I should be invited to freely and fully be Luke.
Luke Hansen is a pastoral intern at iNVERSION. He is a musician, composer, and writer.