Welcoming guests

Each Sunday we welcome guests who are spending time with us at Trinity CRC. I prefer saying guests rather than visitors. (And don’t get me started about referring to new people as strangers as I once heard a pastor do!) You might be tempted to say this is just semantics – that we’re talking about the same thing, so don’t make a big deal about it. I disagree.

Although similar, the definitions of guest and visitor do have Beyond the First Visit by Gary L McIntoshsome differences. Gary McIntosh explains those differences in Beyond the First Visit:

Visitors are often unwanted; guests are expected. Visitors just show up; guests are invited. Visitors are expected to leave; guests are expected to stay. Visitors come one time; guests return again.

How many jokes are out there about your mother-in-law coming for a visit? The jokes don’t work (at least not as well) if you refer to the woman as a guest. (Just for the record and in case my wife’s mom is reading: I don’t get mother-in-law jokes.)

Just for the record and in case my wife’s mom is reading: I don’t get mother-in-law jokes.

Unless you specifically indicate otherwise by prefacing it with the adjective unwelcome, a guest is typically someone you’re happy to have in your home. Even if they arrive unexpectedly, we are happy to extend hospitality to guests.

If in the newspaper or on the sign out front or on our church’s website we invite people to check out our church, should anyone be seen as showing up unexpectedly? More to the point, if a new person shows up to a Sunday worship service, are we genuinely happy to see them? If not, then I suppose it doesn’t matter whether we think of them as visitors or even strangers.

Just don’t hold your breath for them to come back.

All this reminds me of how the word guest appears in a reading I sometimes use when leading a celebration of the Lord’s Supper:

[Jesus] was always the guest.
In the homes of Peter and Jairus,
Martha and Mary,
Joanna and Susanna,
he was always the guest.
At the meal tables of the wealthy
where he pled the case of the poor,
he was always the guest.
Upsetting polite company,
befriending isolated people,
welcoming the stranger,
he was always the guest.

But here, at this table,
he is the host.

Those who wish to serve him
must first be served by him;
those who want to follow him
must first be fed by him;
those who would wash his feet
must first let him make them clean.
For this is the table
where God intends us to be nourished;
this is the time
when Christ can make us new.

So come, you who hunger and thirst
for a deeper faith,
for a better life,
for a fairer world.
Jesus Christ,
who has sat at our tables,
now invites us to be guests at his.

In our churches on Sundays, we’re a bit like Jesus: We have the privilege to graciously and humbly serve as hosts for new people who walk through the door. Yet we are all guests, appearing at God’s gracious call to worship. And if each one of us is a guest on Sunday mornings, in a lot of ways it doesn’t make a big difference whether we’re showing up for the first or thousand-and-first time.

Lord's Supper

The quote from
Beyond the First Visit appears in this insightful blog. The Lord’s Supper reading originally appeared in A Wee Worship Book by the Wild Goose Resource Group; I found it in The Worship Sourcebook by Faith Alive Christian Resources (a second edition has just been published). I found the cartoon and Lord’s Supper graphic via Google.

3 thoughts on “Welcoming guests

  1. Pat says:

    Love that poem!


  2. Angela says:

    I like this blog entry, I do not currently attend regularly and mostly because I moved and cannot seem to feel “welcome” the same way I did at my previous church


  3. Stanley J. Groothof says:

    Thank you, Angela, for writing! I’m sorry to hear you haven’t received a warm welcome within a new church family. Even if people in a friendly church do not actually extend friendship, it can feel lonely. May God remind you in tangible ways of His unending friendship and presence in your life! ~Stan


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