It’s often stressed how important it is for our churches to be outward looking and, as part of that, to be friendly to visitors. When you see a visitor at the worship services, be kind and welcoming. But what if it’s taken everything in your power just to get to church? What if you’re having an awful day and not feeling particularly friendly?
Let’s first recognize a few factors. There’s a great difference between being or feeling unable to be welcoming and not wanting to be welcoming. If someone doesn’t see the importance of being friendly and welcoming, that’s a more significant problem. Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” If that’s true of our own homes, then it certainly it ought to be all the more true when we gather as God’s house for worship. God’s house, his church, should also be a place of hospitality – a warm and welcoming environment. If we’re going to reflect our Saviour Jesus, then we would want to be friendly and kind to visitors. If someone doesn’t want to follow Christ in that regard, then that’s a spiritual problem that calls for repentance.
But that’s different than being or feeling unable to be welcoming. There can be different reasons for that. Sometimes it’s just a temporary thing. You had a fight with your spouse that morning and, when you left for church, things were still unresolved. Or maybe it was your children. You arrive at church and you’re feeling less than friendly. It happens.
There can also be more chronic challenges. Sometimes there are mental health issues like anxiety or depression. When these are ongoing, it can be a huge hurdle just to get out of bed and find the energy to go to church. Arriving at church, you may not feel like talking to anyone, let alone to a complete stranger.
Last of all, people have different personalities. Some are naturally more introverted and shy. I count myself in that category. I don’t like socializing in big crowds and find it difficult to strike up conversations with strangers. I was once a missionary, but I’m the most unlikely person to be one. When your character is more reserved, it can be hard to push yourself out there.
So, how do we deal with these real challenges? We have to bring this down to what it really is. It’s God’s will that we should be friendly and welcoming to visitors. But, for whatever reason, it seems difficult or even impossible for us to follow God’s will. We can’t do it. The temptation here is to rely on our own wisdom and just walk away feeling absolved. That temptation has to be resisted. Instead, we need to ask: what’s the biblical answer to this problem? It’s to remember that God is sovereign over everything, including our hearts, our wills, and our energy. When we say God is sovereign, we mean that he rules over it all. He is the one who can change it. Since that’s true, we’re called to pray to the sovereign God and ask him to change it.
Let’s put it into practice.
For the one who’s had family conflict on Sunday morning, pause and pray: “Father, even though I’ve had a rough morning, help me not to take it out on anyone else. If you bring a visitor across my path, please help me to be friendly and kind.”
For those dealing with the chronic health challenges, including mental health, pray regularly: “Father, I’m struggling, but help me to look outside myself. Despite my struggles, please help me to reflect the loving heart of Christ to those you bring across my path.”
If you’re shy and introverted, pray: “Father, even though I want to run away, help me to be bold. Please help me to get out of my comfort zone and if there are visitors, help me to love them and say the right words to welcome them.”
If you pray along these lines, things will change. The sovereign God works to change things through our prayers brought to him through the intercession of Christ. God will begin helping you to overcome your circumstances and follow his will. I’m not saying that change will happen all at once. But persistently praying in this way will, in due time, have an effect.