When I was a child, my parents regularly invited guests to dinner. My mother would begin by asking guests what they enjoyed eating and what they disliked. She was an excellent cook (as it turns out, it’s not genetic) and would then plan a meal that often featured one of their favourite foods. As guests arrived, my brother and I would compete for who could offer the most enthusiastic welcome, take the most coats or lead our guests into the best seats of the living room.
Our driveway and walkway always had a forgotten baseball, wooden sword, or homemade bike ramp sitting out. Guests weren’t expecting these hazards and so we would have to clean them up before they arrived. In the same way, we should consider the hidden ‘hazards’ for new believers or new folks who join OM. How might it feel to sit in a meeting and overhear people talking about an amazing new retreat or comparing new cars when you can barely afford to feed your family? Are there attitudes and lifestyle choices which might make it difficult for newcomers to feel included and welcome?
Once, we had a visitor in town originally from Germany who mentioned how much he missed chocolate mousse. My mother searched to find a recipe (this was before the internet) and it took several tries to get the mousse to turn out perfectly. She never complained about how hard it was to make the mousse, offering hospitality without grumbling (1 Peter 4:9). After dinner, the German shared he was very honoured that someone would make such an effort just for him. As we welcome more believers from Buddhist, Muslim and other faith backgrounds into our lives—and into OM—we need to ask ourselves if we are willing to make the effort to make them feel welcomed and esteemed. We should ask them what they want before assuming their needs must be the same as ours.
First impressions can be last impressions
My parents’ friends like to laugh about my brother and me sprinting to see who could welcome the guests first. But when was the last time I excused myself from a conversation with friends and sprinted to welcome a new face to church, a fellowship group or an OM meeting? A few years ago, I attended a new church while travelling in the USA. During the post-praise ‘meet and greet’, a fellow turned to the man next to me and asked, “Hi Bob; is she with you?” The man answered, “No, she’s just sitting in my seat.” What if I had been attending church for the first time—would I ever return? What do we think Jesus would say if we refuse to shift seats to make room for someone new? When was the last time we competed with each other to welcome the most people, or invite the most newcomers over to dinner?
I am reminded that we are called to be hospitable (Romans 12:13) and we demonstrate this by how we welcome new believers and each other. This is easy to do when we all have similar backgrounds and have known each other for years. But as the Church, and our movement, becomes more diverse, do we merely tolerate or do we warmly welcome newcomers? How do we welcome people who bring different viewpoints, expectations, traditions, communication styles and faith expressions into our movement? Are we willing to put aside our preferences to esteem our brothers and sisters (Philippians 2:4)? Will the world look at OM and know we are Jesus followers because of the love we have for one another (John 13:35)?
Heather has served with OM for six years. Before moving overseas, she worked in management consulting and was led to Jesus by a co-worker. Heather is from the USA but has lived/worked in Ecuador, Mexico, Germany, Singapore, Indonesia and is now based in the Middle East. She currently leads the Global South Initiative and is passionate about seeing the global south church sharing Jesus with the least-reached.