It was my privilege in May of 2003 to host the first ‘Bridge Builder’s’ Pastor’s Conference here at Sherwood. Dr. Warren Wiersbe and I spent the day with nearly sixty pastors talking about change, ministry and pastoring in the 21st century. It was a rich time and I believe all who were involved were blessed.
The day started at 7 a.m. with prayer and ended sometime around 8 p.m. During those hours, many of our laity were present to host and help those who were our guest. Our facilities crew did a great job of getting the facilities in tip top shape. Our staff did a fantastic job of being at the doors, helping with directions and making the pastors feel welcomed. Our laity served the men three meals and our deacons waited on the pastors for supper. A huge ‘WELL DONE’ to all our staff, secretaries and volunteers. You blessed the socks off our guests! They will never forget you.
Through the years, we’ve been able to host a number of events beyond our normal services and Bible conferences. We’ve hosted the Georgia Baptist Preaching Conference and a number of times, we’ve made our facilities available for corporations and ministries such as Hospice and other groups involved in care giving. The response is always the same, people appreciate a church that goes the second mile.
We live in such a self-centered society, it is a great witness to the gospel when a church actually acts like a church. When people are wanted and welcomed. When the church, staff and laity, are willing to serve, go the second mile, and do the little something extra. Trust me, you don’t find that everywhere. You should, but you don’t.
One comment I hear from folks who visit at Sherwood and from guest preachers is the hospitality they get. With the Strauss House, we are able to give our guest speakers a comfortable, three bedroom home away from home. It is quiet, clean and so much more relaxing than a hotel room with who knows what next door.
From the time people walk on this campus, we don’t want them to go five feet without someone greeting them. If WalMart can have greeters at the doors, we can too….and should. The world should never beat the church in the area of hospitality. They are paid to do it, we do it because Jesus saved us and made us gracious people.
One of the characteristics I see lacking in the local church and among many in ministry is hospitality. We’ve lost our etiquette and manners. We’ve forgotten how to be servants and foot washers. I’ve been enough places in the last thirty years to know that, by God’s grace, we are better at this than 99.9% of the places I’ve been.
I’ve been in churches as a guest speaker where the staff never spoke to me or introduced themselves. I’ve walked in churches to visit and never had a person speak to me or welcome me. I’ve been mistreated or ignored in at least fifteen states.
I’ve also been places where you were treated with honor. Trust me, you’ll always go back to the place that serves you. You always have to pray about it when they treat you like they are doing you a favor for having you. The church that honors the minister, God honors.
Some people are naturally hospitable. They are open, engaging and friendly. Some of us have to work at it. Either way, it’s the right thing to do. Some are gifted, for others it is a developed discipline.
The gifts of God are given to glorify Christ. Being kind to strangers and guest is pleasing to God. The gifts are given to edify others. Whether it’s the member who sees it or the guest who experiences it, hospitality makes a difference. God has gifted the church I pastor with many hospitable people. This is more than southern hospitality, this is the love of Jesus coming out of people.
Let’s not forget these words from God’s Word, Paul writing to the Romans in the practical application part of his letter said in Chapter twelve, “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.” Worked then, works now.
Let’s remember the writer of Hebrews who instructed the church in chapter thirteen and verse two, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (NASU)
Anything God says one time, should be obeyed. Anything he repeats must be important.
God expects us to be hospitable. If you are a pastor reading this article, make sure you are doing everything within your power to lead your people to greet strangers with the spirit of Christ. Honor your guest speakers before your people. When you introduce them, build them up and tell your people why they need to listen to them. Adjust your schedule to the preachers needs, whether it’s meals or extra meetings you may think you want to plan. Ask first.
If you are a layman, be a servant. Our deacons have developed a reputation for being servants. Most deacons in most churches are known by other qualities (most not good). The man who is too good to wait on a table is not good enough to be a deacon.
Everyone in the body is to be a greeter. Some have the task, at the doors. But from the parking lot to the pew, our calling is to greet strangers, love without hypocrisy and do what is good. We can never lag behind in these qualities. There is no such thing as too much kindness, love and hospitality.
This world uses people. The church is in the business of being a blessing to people. Let it be said of us, now and forever, “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord.” If we treat people the way Christ wants us to, they’ll want to be a part of what God is doing in this place.
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.