But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life.
Over the past few years our church has made a concerted effort to welcome first time visitors to worship with radical hospitality. I stand outside and introduce myself to anyone here for the first time, we have greeters waiting by the entrance to the sanctuary, we send around a pew pad to gather addresses/phone numbers to follow up with people later, and we give away a travel coffee mug with our name, address, and phone number. All of these things are done in a hospitable way in order to demonstrate our love for others, and our desire to continually share the message of the Lord with them.
Some churches go far above and beyond what we do to entice first time visitors to return; I have heard of churches that give away bags of candy, others welcome visitors with coupons to local restaurants, still others give away books, DVDs, and further promotional material. Some churches have committees dedicated to training members on how to speak to first time visitors and invite them to return for another aspect of church life. In the last few years “radical hospitality” has been a major focus of the mainline and non-denominational churches to retain worship numbers.
Yet, sometimes, when I read scripture I am reminded of how unappealing Christianity can be. When Christ went ou among the multitudes he did not say: “here is some promotional material about what our movement is doing, we hope to see you next week!” Instead he brought people into his fold with some of the worst PR I have ever read: “let the dead bury the dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God… whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me… whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all…”
I fear that today we attempt to make the gospel so appealing that, according to the ways of the world, we water it down. It is a joyous and wonderful thing to have been freed from the power of sin, but we must not forget that we are now enslaved to God. The advantage of discipleship is our own sanctification and eternal life but it comes at a cost. Christianity is not some other wonderful way of thinking about life, it is a demanding and difficult call to live radically transformed lives where the ways of God are more important than the ways of the world.
So, this week I challenge us to reflect on our faith and the ways that we try to share it with others. Are we inviting people to church because it makes us feel good, because a full sanctuary looks better than an empty one? Or are we willing to admit the paradox that being enslaved to God is is the most wonderful and powerful thing we can do with our lives?