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the [un]welcoming church

If the kinds of people with whom Jesus associated came to your church, would they be welcomed?

Consider carefully before you answer (1) the kinds of people with whom Jesus associated and (2) the meaning of welcomed.

The People Who Need Welcoming

“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2).

Jesus welcomed the very people the religious crowd tried hard to avoid. He welcomed the marginalized and the ostracized. He welcomes the untouchables. He welcomed notorious sinners. He welcomed the sexually immoral—the adulterers and prostitutes. He welcomed people of different races and ethnicities.

Are we as welcoming? Do we welcome the family with a different skin color that speaks with an accent? What about the girl who is pregnant and unmarried? Is she welcomed? Or the person struggling with addiction? The family with the disruptive special needs child—do they feel welcomed?

In theory, everyone is welcome in our churches. In practice, that is not always true.

The Meaning of “Welcome”

“Whoever welcomes this little child in My name welcomes Me” (Luke 9:48).

“Welcome” is a biblical word rich with a rich meaning. It is more than a smile and a handshake. It is more than what happens during the “welcome and announcements.” If we reduce a welcome to a greeting, we clearly have misunderstood the meaning of welcome.

When Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes this little child,” He didn’t mean “whoever greets … whoever shakes his hand … whoever puts on a friendly face ….”

The biblical word for welcome (dekomai) means to be concerned about, to care for, to show kindness to, to receive, or to give access to oneself.

Jesus used the same word for welcome when He explained His parable of the soils. The good soil represents those who hear the word and “welcome” it (Mark 4:20, HCSB). This soil “welcomes” the scattered seed. Such welcoming goes deeper than mere superficialities. The welcoming soil takes in the seed, nourishes it, and provides an environment in which the seed is transformed, grows, and bears fruit.

A welcoming church is the fertile soil in which all people can experience change and growth through the power of gospel of grace.

Will We Welcome?

“If you show favoritism, you commit sin” (James 2:9).

Interestingly enough, the second chapter of James speaks directly to the way we welcome people into the church. James warns that if the way we welcome people into our church is conditioned by their appearance or their perceived status or wealth, then we commit sin (v. 9). Such discrimination calls into question our own faith: “My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?” (v. 1‬, NLT).

We need to be honest about this. Do we welcome the person whom we believe can make a contribution and fill a need in the church differently than the way we welcome the person who appears poor and needy with nothing to offer?

Think back to what Jesus said about welcoming a child. In the ancient world, a small child had no status and no influence. The “little child” who stood by Jesus’ side represents any person who comes with absolutely nothing to give, but only with needs to be met. Whoever welcomes that person, said Jesus, “welcomes Me.” The way we welcome the lowliest person into our church is an indication of the way we have welcomed Jesus.

How welcoming is your church?