Most of us have been inside of a lunchroom at some point in our life. The lunchroom is the most fragmented place that you will ever visit. Each section of the lunchroom is split into a particular group. You have the athletes, the comic book club, the alternative crowd, the book club (those that read books during lunch), and I could go on. Our auditoriums tend to look the same way - the youth group sits up front, the young families/young adults tend to gravitate towards each other, and the older members make sure the front of the auditorium is filled. The problem is we sit in the same seat by the same people each and every week. What happens when a visitor walks in or even worse, a visitor takes our seat? (gasp!)
Visitors often come in and fill out of place because we have our own place, our own way of doing things and, at times, that does not include visitors and making them feel like they have a place within the church.
Philip Jenkins touches on this very idea in his book "Lunch Ladies: Cultivating an Actmosphere." After reading the book, I have wondered to myself what the perception of the church is from an outsider's perspective. Do they walk in our doors where they feel welcomed and loved or do they feel as if they walked into an exclusive club that no one wants them to be a part of?
As a church we must shed the lunchroom mentality to create an atmosphere where even the most unchurched can thrive. Here are some ways we can overcome the lunchroom mentality:
Do Good To Everyone - Fulfilling Galatians 6:10
Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.
Generally, we do a great job of taking care of our own and meeting their needs, but we fail to meet the needs of the community around us. We fall short when it comes to the aspect of "do good to everyone." Everyone can be an overwhelming word when you think of what all that encompasses, but what are you doing for your community?
What are we doing to let the community around us know that we love them? How are we showing the community around us that we are there for them?
When churches say "service", too often they mean "serve us".
Love Your Neighbor As Yourself - Fulfilling Matthew 22:33-39
"...when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
Second behind the greatest commandment of loving God with all your being is loving your neighbor as yourself. Did you catch that? You should love your neighbor as if they were you. How much love do you have for yourself? Is it the same love that you show your neighbors, the community around you?
A certain lawyer asked, "Who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29). Is the church the same way? Are we asking too often, "Who is my neighbor?", instead of being like the Good Samaritan who crossed all unacceptable cultural and social barriers to help his neighbor. At the same time, if we are to be like Christ, we understand the importance of crossing unacceptable cultural and social behaviors to help our neighbors, to meet their needs. Jesus did that throughout His ministry.
Treat Them Like Christ - Fulfilling Matthew 25:34-40
"Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’"
There are many reasons why people do not like the church, but they should never not like the church because we aren't meeting their needs and treating them like Christ. They should not love the church because they have not been loved, in return, by her. We have to fulfill the mentality that when we are fulfilling the needs of our community, we are treating them like Christ.
If we acted like the body of Christ, we would love them, serve them, give to them, respect them, reach out to them, and treat them like Christ would.
Are you being a neighbor? Does the church meet the needs of visitors and the community around you or does it just meet the needs of it's members?
One thing that Philip Jenkins encourages people to do in his book is to develop the mindset of a lunch lady. Why? because lunch ladies serve everyone, they make sure that everyone's needs are met in the lunch room. Are we meeting the needs of our visitors and our community? Are we making sure that every visitor who walks through our door feels welcomed and loved?
What would Jesus do to make sure His neighbors felt loved? When we figure that out, then doors of opportunities will open up to us to love our neighbor, to do good to everyone, and to treat them like Christ.
The question isn't how much we love each other, but how much we love our neighbor, love our community, and love those that aren't like you.
If our congregation ceased to exist tomorrow, would our community notice or care?
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Andrew Thompson is the Youth and Family Minister at Rose Hill Church of Christ in Columbus, GA. He is married to the beautiful, Joy Thompson (who is way out of his league!). They enjoy sharing life together, ministering to teens and families, football in Tuscaloosa (Roll Tide!), and musical theatre. Andrew is a proud supporter of sarcasm and dry sense of humors. Thank you for reading!