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Risking Hospitality in Your Church
By Jim Ozier, Fiona Haworth
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2014 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
The Power of Introductions
Get a bicycle. You will certainly not regret it, if you live.
I (Jim) love introductions. While I've heard variations of this story, my favorite is as follows:
A pompous old preacher of First Methodist Episcopal South Church in St. Louis—the tall steeple church of the day—introduced the famous humorist Mark Twain at the opening of an impressive new civic library. All the high-society people of the area were there, including prominent politicians, local poli-ticians, and business leaders. Wanting to soak up all the stage time he could, the preacher solemnly strolled back and forth across the platform, plunged his hands into his pockets in a ponderous way, and exhorted: "I submit to you tonight, that we should enjoy a unique experience ... we will hear from a humorist who should be funny." A few in the crowd chuckled.
Mark Twain bolted onto the platform and mockingly imitated the pompous old preacher, plunging his hands into his pockets and strolling back and forth. The crowd roared when he mimicked, "Friends, I submit to you tonight that you will be a part of two unique experiences. First, you will hear from a humorist who will be funny. Second ... you've just seen a Methodist preacher with his hands in his own pockets!"
I love Mark Twain. As a matter of fact, on my first date I went to Mark Twain's cave in Hannibal Missouri. I was living near Quincy, Illinois, at the time and had just gotten my driver's license. Do you remember your first car date? When you and your date were alone, with no parents or older sibling to chaperone?
I picked up my sweetheart and drove across the Mississippi, where we were going to spend the day together, just the two of us. Our first stop was to tour Mark Twain's cave. Hundreds of people waited outside for the gates to open. We were divided into little groups, each with a guide. When our time came, we followed the guide through the cavern, squeezed in like sardines, but we didn't care. We held hands, and, like all young lovers, we were in our own world, oblivious to the crowd. We heard the guide drone on about stalagmites and stalactites as we wandered along.
Finally we came to a large space. The guide stopped and explained that this was the very room where Huck Finn and Injun Joe and Becca frolicked and played. "But," said the guide, "when they were here, they had only the light of torches." He continued, "You are in the darkest dark humanly possible; you didn't notice it because of the fluorescent lighting along the cave walls as you toured. But imagine how dark it was in Mark Twain's day. I'll show you. I'm going to turn out the lights, and you will experience total darkness." And he turned out the lights. "I'm going to warn you," he said. "In a few moments when I turn the lights back on, you will be shocked! Your eyes will be shocked trying to adjust."
On and on the guide went, as we stood there in the darkest dark humanly possible. I got to thinking, "We are in a dark room. I am with my girlfriend. What the heck?" I decided to do it. I let go of her hand, slid my arm around her shoulder, pulled her close, and there in the darkest dark imaginable, I stole my first kiss! I remember it still. It was like cave heaven!
And then suddenly the lights came on. The guide was right: I was shocked! My girlfriend was shocked! But not nearly as shocked as the woman I was kissing!
I learned two things that day. Never, ever, go to a dark cave for your first date, and never, ever, be surprised or shocked at what the light of Christ reveals when it shines on us, in us, and through us!
If we are not careful, in the darkness of our daily living, we might be cuddling up to actions and behaviors that would make Jesus Christ blush.
If we are not careful, in the darkest places of our soul, we might be embracing mean-spirited attitudes and prejudice that cause hurt and pain to others and ourselves.
In the darkness of our own hearts, we get cheek to cheek with negative, morale-destroying internal assumptions, like "I'm not good enough"; "I've messed up my life too much"; "I'm not smart enough or attractive enough"; or, "I've messed up my life too much for even God to do anything about it."
In the darkest darkness of our secret places, we can fall to the temptation to snuggle up with ideologies that separate and divide us and close the doors of healthy relationships.
But the good news is that the light of Christ can shine on us and in us and through us. Once we are introduced to this light, we see ourselves and our world in a whole different way, and we experience forgiveness, acceptance, and a new future.
That's why I love introductions! Isn't it the job of the church to introduce people who live in some kind of darkness to the light of Jesus Christ? Let's not fool ourselves. All around us there are people who are living in darkness.
Maybe it's your neighbors who have just moved in from out of state. They miss their family and wonder how they are going to raise the kids without family close by.
Maybe it's your coworker who is living with some guilt or unresolved conflict that is weighing her or him down.
Maybe it's a family member or close friend who has lost all sense of meaning or purpose.
Maybe it's those nearly invisible folks who live homeless on the street or who may be struggling with addiction or battling uphill just to survive.
The truth is, there are many people who live in some kind of darkness, and you may be the bridge over which they walk to encounter the light of Christ for the very first time! But it is unlikely you can become that bridge unless you first build a relationship with each of those people.
Fortunately that relationship bridge may well be built within the walls of your church. So relax; this book does not intend to fire you up to go door-to-door and ask people if they know Jesus. Instead it seeks to motivate you and equip you to build a relationship bridge when people come to the church for the very first time.
That's right! Those people who live in some kind of darkness may walk through the front door of your church on a Sunday morning, and many of them are pushing their bikes because of some kind of personal flat tire or chain coming off or handlebar getting loose.
We never know if that person who walks through the front door for the first time on a Sunday morning walked through the door of his or her home on Wednesday afternoon and found a note on the table that read, "I don't love you anymore. I'm outta here."
We never know if that person who walks through the front door for the first time on a Sunday morning went to the doctor on Thursday morning and heard a dreaded diagnosis: cancer.
We never know if that person who walks through the front door for the first time on a Sunday morning was up all night on Saturday trying to get his or her kid out of jail.
We just never know what kind of darkness surrounds a person who walks through our doors. And many people—perhaps most people today—who walk through the doors of our church are driven there by some personal pain or hurt or anguish or life-stage change. Don't assume they are "just church shopping" and treat them casually (a very typical church behavior).
This book is about hospitality. This chapter and the next begin our discussion about the second component of a culture of hospitality: relationship. Relationship is the wheels of the bike that allow it to go and that make for a smooth ride!
The two wheels of the bike operate in relationship to each other. One wheel in a culture of hospitality is the circle of friendships within the church that members so deservedly love. The other wheel is that circle of acquaintances and friendships outside the church that are yet to be made. When the two function together, we experience a smooth, sweet ride!
For a bicycle, the back wheel is the driving force. It gets the energy generated by the pedals and turns that energy into power, which turns the back wheel and thrusts the bike forward. The front wheel is connected to the handlebar and provides direction. In the church, the driving force is the back wheel of relationships yet to be made outside the congregation: the mission field! The congregation and its leadership can and must provide the strategic direction, but the driving force must always be to meet new people and meet new needs, and to be thrust constantly into the mission field.
When bicycles were first invented, the wheels were simply metal rims. One of the first great innovations in cycling came with the advent of the pneumatic tire, a tire inflated with air circling that old metal rim. The result? A smoother ride! The problem? Flat tires caused by punctures and blowouts. The fix? Tire pumps and inner tube patches for repairs.
Most everyone knows the feeling of air going out of a relationship; it leaves us feeling flat. Too many churches seem to be limping along with a flat tire, unable to grow, because the spirit of hospitality is either nonexistent or confined to only the circle of friendships already existing within the church. Both wheels are needed for a bicycle—or a church—to go! Our hope is that this book will pump up the enthusiasm for a smoother hospitality ride in your church, creating a culture that rides on relationships.
So this book will teach how hospitality is not simply about being warm and fuzzy and friendly, as important as that is. It will also teach about hospitality's deeper duty: to develop relationships and make connections. To connect with one person and facilitate connecting that person to another. To create an environment where people connect to each other, to the church, to the wider world, and to God.
Hospitality is all about connecting! But the doorway to connection is relationship, and relationships begin with introduction. So this section is first about creating a culture of hospitality based on introductions. Second, you will find practical application, tools, and techniques to create that culture in your church.
A culture of hospitality happens when every person, every Sunday is intentional about making connections: connecting to someone they do not already know; connecting one person they meet to yet another person; connecting people to God through their intentionality, behavior, and life. In short, when people make themselves available in this way, they can become the bridge over which someone may walk to experience the light of Jesus Christ for the first time.
"Reaching the mission field" gets much attention in churches today. But let's recognize that there are three mission fields:
The mission field of the self. This happens when we truly are so motivated by the gospel that it changes us from passive to proactive, from a consumer to a producer of ministry, and from nonchalant and random to focused and on target.
The mission field of the church. Your church. My church. Before we try to reach the mission field "out there," we must own that the culture in most churches needs to be reached and transformed. Has the culture in your church become weakened by a maintenance mode and become inwardly focused? If so, you need to give as much attention to changing the church culture to one of growth and intentionality, as to attempting to change the community in which the church is located.
The mission field of the community. This is where it's at—where the action is, where we are called to be and to serve! But first, we in the church must be willing to change our culture so we can connect with the needs of the mission field. We must rediscover our biblical roots and create a church DNA that is outwardly driven, not inwardly focused. The community may well begin in our immediate neighborhood, but will quickly expand to include meeting more needs for more people in places all the way to "the ends of the earth."
To best reach the mission field, we have to engage and connect with people. To do this we must create a culture of hospitality. So first, a word about that culture: "Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling" (1 Peter 4:9 NIV).
Overheard at a hospitality training workshop: One usher whispering to another, expressing his hesitancy about the concept of a culture of hospitality, "It was my turn to be friendly last week!"
Culture travels on our words. So we must be careful about the wording we use to refer to hospitality. For instance, do the people in your church see the first-time attender as a visitor or as a guest?
The Guest/Visitor difference: Highly anticipated, eagerly awaited, exceedingly loved!
A visitor is like this: You're home at the end of a hard day, getting comfortable, settled into your favorite chair, when the doorbell rings. Startled, you look over to your spouse and ask, "Are you expecting somebody?" He or she shakes his or her head no, and both of you scramble around, straightening up the coffee table as you edge toward the door. You look through the peephole to see who is outside. You really are not excited about this visitor at your door.
A guest is like this: You invite somebody over for dinner or dessert or to watch the Cowboys in the Super Bowl! You are excited about him or her coming over; you've cleaned, made special preparations, and are eager for that person to arrive. You've sent him or her directions to your house. As the time draws near, you stand near the door, opening it occasionally, looking out in anticipation. When your guest arrives, your expectations are fulfilled. You experience his or her arrival not as an intrusion or inconvenience but as a welcomed occurrence.
Creating a culture of hospitality includes changing not only our mind-set but also our vocabulary. We need to upgrade "Visitor Registration Pads," "Visitor Parking" signs, and anything else that has the word "visitor" on it. Upgrade the wording to "guest." Say it, speak it, preach it, and teach it.
The "Guest/Visitor difference" is characterized in many ways in seminars and workshops by many presenters—most often as I (Jim) shared above. However it is characterized, I've noticed that it boils down to this: A visitor may well enjoy her or his visit, but a guest will connect with the experience of the Sunday morning environment. A guest will experience more than just good feelings; the events will somehow connect on a personal level. And that connection is what increases the likelihood of that person returning for a second time.
I experienced this upgrade personally on a recent Sunday when I attended St. Luke Community UMC in Dallas, our largest African American congregation. As I was pulling into the parking lot, another car parked nearby. The driver got out, immediately walked over to me, extended his hand, and introduced himself: "Good morning. I'm Vance."
I explained that I am a friend of the pastor and wanted to come be in worship with him. Vance took me by the elbow and graciously escorted me to the pastor's office. When I finished my short visit to say hello to my colleague, I exited the office. Vance was right there, waiting for me. "Let me take you to my favorite place to sit in the sanctuary, where you can see everything and the sound is great!"
He seated me next to a delightful elderly lady, who in friendly fashion introduced herself and started making conversation. I commented on her beautiful hat: "I love your hat; it reminds me of when I was a kid and all the ladies wore hats to church."
By the time services were over, she had brought a whole parade of women to me to show me their hats. Throughout the service people made connections, and even the structured greeting time was enthusiastic, genuine, and respectful.
You see, I was not a visitor in St. Luke Community UMC. I was an honored guest in the house of the Lord! I experienced a culture of hospitality that was intentional, robust, and heartfelt. I was highly anticipated, eagerly awaited, and exceedingly loved.
Excerpted from Clip In by Jim Ozier, Fiona Haworth. Copyright © 2014 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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