Through Christ, God has called every Christian to welcome other believers, whether through the doors of the church, in the pew, or while “doing life” during the week. When we welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us, we bless the church, show Christ to the world, and in doing so, we bring glory to God. So how do we do that?
Welcoming Other Believers as Christ Has Welcomed You
Another year of life groups begins the week of September 17th. Our small groups generally kicked off with good food and discussion around the purpose of our time together. As we are forming new groups, refreshing existing groups and getting ready to launch again, the idea of “welcoming warmly” comes to mind.
So, I’ve been thinking, about how do we welcome others as Christ has welcomed us, not just in small groups but in life. Christ’s welcome and our ability to welcome go hand in hand:
Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (Romans 15:7)
In what ways has Christ welcomed us, and how does this enable us to “welcome one another”? Whether you’re leading a life group, hosting friends and family, in a leadership position at work, or getting to know your neighbors, consider a few ways to welcome, based on how Jesus has welcomed you:
- Jesus has welcomed you into the family of God. Welcome boldly.
Every Christian was once an enemy of God. But God being rich in mercy and grace made us alive in Christ and invited us into fellowship with Him forever. Every Christian is part of Christ’s body, the church, being his hands and feet in the world.
What does this mean for our ability to welcome other believers? First, it means that we are more unified with others than we are different from them. The worldly distinctions that once divided us no longer do because Christ’s gospel is our shared foundation. First and foremost, we are brothers and sisters in Christ. Through this, we can form relationships with people whom we might never have invested in previously. Are you a bit nervous about that new person coming to life group? Are you hesitant to talk to the person next to you at church? Me too. But we don’t need to be! If they’ve trusted Christ, they’re our family. We can welcome them boldly. It’s just what we do.
- Jesus has welcomed you into His mercy and grace. Welcome unconditionally.
When He saved us, Christ did not give us what we deserved: condemnation, just judgment, and hell. Instead, He gave us far more than we ever deserved, adopting us into His family, and promising to be with us always through His Spirit. What mercy, to be spared from rightful judgment; what grace, to be granted unmerited favor!
What does this mean for our ability to welcome other believers? It means that the ground is level at the cross. All of us have deserved worse and gained infinitely more through Christ’s mercy and grace, so none of us can boast. None of us are any better than the other. We are commanded to be merciful and full of grace toward sinners, which is all of us, making forgiveness and unity priority. We can welcome others unconditionally.
- Jesus has welcomed you into his eternal inheritance. Welcome generously.
As Christians, we help each other remember that this world is not our final home. Right now, we are in the body and away from the Lord, as we walk by faith and not by sight. But someday, we will be at home with Jesus and see Him face to face. Christ will welcome us into an eternity with Him, and He gives us the guarantee of such a home now in His Holy Spirit. All that is God’s is ours through Christ.
What does this mean for our ability to welcome other believers? Because we have all we need in Jesus, we are free to be open-handed and generous with our time, energy, gifts, resources, and finances. Because this world is not our final home, we can freely open our earthly homes trusting that God will use this welcoming to make disciples and add to the number of those being saved. Even when we feel depleted, weak, and ill-equipped, we can trust that the Spirit will bear fruit in us for the work God gives us to do. We can welcome others generously.
. . .
So this is all good and fine; welcoming believers, brothers and sisters in Christ. But what about non-believers? What about those who are just starting their journey with God?
A few years ago, we launched a new life group. Although we had been leading life groups for many years, the first night of group still brought some nerves meeting all new folks. As I was setting up for group I was grumbling in my head as there were only nine people coming and I generally preferred a little larger group. Okay, I was really grumbling. This doesn’t happen often, but I clearly heard (in my head), “My group, not yours.” Ouch! Okay, God, got it.
The group arrived, a bit of a strange bunch. I’ll spare you all the gritty details, but as we went around and introduced ourselves, of the 11 people in the room, only 4 were believers. Four! The rest ranged from fallen away to never believed to describing themselves as “reconstructed Christians” meaning they pick and choose what pieces they follow. Well, this would be an interesting 11 weeks of group.
Welcoming Non-Believers as Christ Has Welcomed You
Talking with a non-Christian can be intimidating for many followers of Jesus. Trust me, as we progressed through the first quarter of group and actually the year that followed, we had many, many discussions that started with “Why”, or “I don’t believe that,” or “Why would God”, or “That’s just religion, not God,” etc. etc.
As we approach these conversations, we are often tempted to either gloss over the answer to move through the conversations as quickly and safely as possible; or worse, bulldoze our way through it and shut down the disbelief we may be hearing. It can be hard to have an open and easy discussion with those who believe differently from us about Christ. We have accepted Christ so deep within our heart and soul, we just want to say, it is because it is, or because I said so, or because God said so without any true explanation or discussion. But we need to realize the confused, lost and maybe even dark place they are coming from.
It is almost as if by questioning the things they are hearing they are challenging us. Challenging or testing our beliefs. They are not. They are swimming through the muck and mire trying to find the shoreline. They are trying to understand. It is an amazing thing we have the privilege to do to guide them there.
As you talk about Christ with non-believers or believers who are struggling in their faith, think on these things:
- Value them as people.
We need to see those who think differently than us as people. This helps us to not be so frightened of them that we never start that conversation. Nothing about them threatens or takes away our relationship with Christ. Quite the opposite. They ARE God’s children and He placed them before you for you to gently, lovingly, and kindly guide them to the shore.
That person who comes to your life group, your neighbor, cousin, barista, or person you pass on the street are created in God’s image, have inherent dignity, and were created to worship.
This is an easy next step, but one we often ignore and miss how important it can be. Just listen to what they have to say.
Often, you can stand out simply by paying attention when they talk. In a noisy world full of loud voices, sometimes a listening ear can speak the loudest.
This not only affirms their worth but allows you to better understand them and meet them where they are at.
- Find points of connection.
As you listen to them, you will find some common ground—a shared experience, a favorite book or movie, an activity, a heartbreaking tragedy. Much of our group came together through a love of hiking, though admittedly not me. 😊
Any of these can form a bond between you and the other person. Those bonds allow the relationship to grow deeper and move to other topics, including faith.
- Understand their perspective.
As you listen to them, hear why they are a non-Christian at this point in their life. Maybe they grew up Muslim or converted to Hinduism in college. Perhaps they used to go to church but left because of a theological disagreement or damage to a relationship. It is sad how often we hear of people being hurt by the church.
Don’t instinctively judge them or their current position. Try to understand why they arrived at the point they did so that you can better show how the gospel will reach them where they are.
- Avoid using Christian jargon.
Christians use phrases and lingo that can either mean nothing to a person outside of the church or it can raise unnecessary questions and concerns. And don’t just throw scripture at them. Talk real. What has being a follower of Christ meant to you? How are you different? What has He done for you? Where has God shown up in your life?
Talk about your relationship with God in a way that will bring clarity, not more confusion.
- Welcome questions.
Instead of trying to avoid questions, welcome them. It means the other person is listening and engaged in what you are saying. Even if they are hard questions or misleading ones, it at least lets you know they’re thinking through the conversation you are having.
It is important to create a space of psychological safety, meaning that they can ask anything without the threat of ridicule, being laughed at, shut down, or shamed. The response is always, “Great question …”
If they haven’t asked questions, bring it up yourself. Ask if they have any questions. Maybe even bring up some questions you think they may have but haven’t asked. In group, I am known for asking hard or controversial questions just to get the ball rolling.
- Admit ignorance.
When they ask questions, they may well ask something that you don’t have the answer to right off the top of your head. That’s OK.
If your neighbor is a top-notch scientist and asks deep questions about the relationship between science and faith that make your brain hurt, don’t feel like you have to address those issues yourself.
Feel free to say, “That’s a great question. I don’t really know the answer, but I’ll work to find something for you.”
You’ve shown humility and you’ve already primed them for an additional conversation on the topic. Now you have homework. This could lead to inviting this person to speak with another Christian who has expertise in the subject matter or read a book on the topic with you. Great connection.
In reality, this shouldn’t be the final step. This should be part of every step you take before, during, and after your conversations with the other person. I was talking to God before my group ever started, even though in truth I was griping.
Pray that the Holy Spirit will work in their life. Pray that the Holy Spirit will give you the words you need to say and help you remain quiet when that would be best.
Regardless of how long the conversations go on, continue to pray for the other person that one day they will respond to Christ so that one day you can welcome them to the family as Christ welcomed you.
For God and you,