For the last few Sundays I’ve filled the pulpit for a small church that has lost its critical mass. Attendance has dwindled to a faithful few, all of whom are running out of energy. Not a happy situation. Still, when I enter the church building, I feel a sense of welcome and warmth from the folks who are keeping the place afloat.
Last Sunday we had visitors, an older couple, tall and friendly-faced.
I was walking through an unfamiliar residential neighborhood to get some exercise, going at a good clip when I was brought to a sudden halt because the sidewalk disappeared. A certain establishment had not installed sidewalks along its considerable property line. The name of the establishment? Health Network. I could not continue my healthy walk past the Health Network, but had to turn around.
Sometimes I think this is what the church must seem like to people outside the church—an establishment that says one thing on its sign, and another thing by its behavior.
Hospitality is important to me. I grew up in a home where it was common to have guests for dinner, even though we were a family of seven without a formal dining room. Simply getting everyone around the table could be a squeeze, but I don’t remember a person ever complaining. We were happy to sit down to my mother’s good cooking and the clink of bowls passing. I grew up knowing that to host an unexpected guest you simply added water to the soup, or corn muffins to the menu. I thought everyone hosted other people in this way.
Pastoring a church is essentially the practice of hospitality.