I never felt like I fit in at church. Most of the other kids went to the local Christian school, and I did not. Most of the other kids could answer any Bible question. I could not. I barely attended youth group because my introverted self always felt like I was on the outside of the group, looking in. Most of my church camp experiences were the same way.
But I’ve realized something in the past few years. If you talk to almost anyone in the church, they will tell you that they feel like they aren’t in the “in” crowd. Even those people who you always see hobnobbing with others…even they will probably say that they feel a lack of depth, a lonely void that isn’t being filled.
Some attribute this to the church spending too much time reaching out and not enough time “reaching in”. But it seems to me that Jesus would probably disagree that we expend too much effort on genuine outreach, so that can’t be the reason.
Some would say it’s the cliques that are the problem. “Everybody knows everybody else…except me.” Or “everybody is related to everybody else…except me.” But as far as I can tell, people within those cliques are also longing for something more, so that can’t be the reason.
Some would blame it on the church culture. Maybe it’s the preaching, the music, or the fact that there are chairs instead of pews, but that’s why it’s just impossible to connect with anyone in this place. But as far as I can tell, people don’t let those types of things keep them from connecting in a bar.
Some would blame it on hypocrisy. They look around and see all the shiny, smiling faces and think that they can’t possibly be friends with such perfect people. Let me tell you, I’ve been around church people long enough to know that while there are some hypocrites around, there are also an awful lot of genuine, loving Christians who make no bones about the fact that they are sinners in need of grace. There are probably several of them in your church.
Some would blame it on the lack of a program to help them connect with others. “But there’s no Alpha program/small group in my area/welcome group…”
And you know what? To some extent, each of these reasons carry some validity. They are important pieces in the puzzle. But they aren’t the puzzle itself.
If we had the perfect programs, and everyone walked into church with their deepest sins written on their shirts, and we loved the music and the preaching and the heavenly soft pews, and there were no cliques and there was a church picnic every month…people would still be lonely.
Because the root of hospitality, the greek word used in many of our favourite verses, is philoxenos, which means “loving strangers”.
If we have the perfect connection program but have not love, we are only wasting people’s precious time.
If we share our deepest sins with each other but we have not love, we are only full of judgement and self-loathing.
If we have the perfect worship service but we have not love, we are only actors on a stage.
If we have weekly connecting events but we have not love, no true connection will happen.
Because love is the key.
But isn’t this the way of love? Love bears all things? “To bear,” stego in the Greek. It literally means a thatch roof. Love is a roof.
Love bears all things like a roof bears the wind and the rain, like a roof that bears the burden of lashing storms, brutal heat. Like a bucket poured out that could make a roof over your head to absorb storms, that gives itself as a container to carry the burdens of others.
Real love is a roof. Real love makes you into a shelter, real love makes you into a safe place. Real love makes you safe.
-Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way
And isn’t that what hospitality is? Hospitality is about bringing others under your roof and showing them love.
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Or maybe it’s about more than just bringing them under your physical roof and showing them love, but rather about bringing them under the roof of your love, the love that can bear all things because it comes from the ultimate Lover.
Maybe what our churches need is not more people waiting for a friend to pour them a cup of coffee, but more people pouring a cup of true love for a stranger.
Maybe hospitality isn’t about inviting my friends over to a clean (or messy) house, but about inviting over the stranger and by the very virtue of placing them under the shelter of my love, making them a friend.
Maybe we need to do what Jesus commanded in Matthew 7:12 (MSG)…
[clickToTweet tweet=”Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them.” quote=”Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them.”]
Maybe what our churches need is fewer people sitting around in annoyance at the cliques and the ugly pews and the awkward coffee conversation and more people who imagine the end…imagine what it would be like if someone did the most radical act of hospitality toward you, then imagine what that radical act of hospitality would be…then grab the initiative and do it for them.
Invite them over for coffee no matter the state of your house. Start a Bible study group. Give them a hug. Snuggle their baby. Laugh with their grandma. Show an interest in their lives.
We don’t always have to bring the stranger under our physical roof, but we do have to bring them under the roof of our love.
Our churches don’t need more programs or different sermons or confession periods.
Our churches need more love.
And as we offer our puny little bits of love, God Himself will fill in the gaps, and we will find ourselves overflowing with enough love for those around us, and enough love for ourselves.
And that lonely void that we thought could only be filled by deeper friendships? It will be filled by God, who is the ONLY void-filler around.
learning to love alongside you,