In the first part of this series, Shane Lems took us through a 3-part approach to being a welcoming church: biblical, balanced, and a missionary bent. You can read those posts here: (Welcoming Church). Later in the series Shane will focus on the congregation, but in this second part he focuses on the pastor. Over the next couple of weeks topics will include being welcoming in leading worship, preaching, and conversation. Here’s Shane:
For the Sake of the Gospel: A Welcoming Pastor
The pastor of a local church has a big role in welcoming visitors. Whether in the pulpit or in regular conversations, the pastor should lead the way in giving visitors a warm welcome. As we learned in the last article, we’re aiming for a biblical perspective and a balanced perspective with a missionary bent. In this blog post, I’ll specifically give the biblical background of being a welcoming pastor. I’ll also give some practical application for pastors. I am primarily speaking to fellow pastors, but the discussion also applies to elders.
I realize pastors have different gifts and different personalities. Some are extroverted, others are introverted. Some pastors have an academic background, others have a blue-collar background. Some pastors love the great outdoors, others would rather stay close to civilization. In his wisdom, God has made each pastor different, yet each pastor is called to follow Scripture’s direction in being a pastor: leading the way in love.
The Biblical Background
In the last article, I noted how both Jesus and Paul welcomed people who came to hear them preach (Luke 9:11; Acts 28:30). Of course, pastors should follow in the footsteps of our Lord and the apostle Paul by welcoming those who come to hear them preach. I also gave other biblical reasons for welcoming visitors to worship; those reasons apply to pastors as well as other Christians.
More specific biblical direction for pastors in welcoming visitors can be found in Paul’s instructions to Timothy. In 1 Timothy 3:2-7 Paul says that the qualifications for an overseer or bishop include being hospitable and gentle. Paul doesn’t say “hopefully” overseers have these qualifications; he says it is necessary that they have them (3:2). These qualifications intersect with welcoming visitors. Pastoral hospitality and gentleness are characteristics that will be on display as visitors are welcomed.
Paul also told Timothy to set an example in speech, conduct, and love (1 Tim. 4:12). This applies to all pastors: they should lead the way in godly speech, Christian conduct, and Christ-like love. This is true each day of the week and it is true on Sunday when interacting with visitors. Furthermore, Paul told Timothy two other times to pursue love (1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22). Again, as a pastor, Timothy was to set an example in showing love to others; love is a major pastoral emphasis. Pastors today can take these words to heart as well, especially as we think about showing love to neighbors who come to worship services and other church events. Pastors should even pray that God gives them more and more love for members and visitors.
There’s a missionary bent to this as well. Paul told Timothy to pray for all kinds of people (1 Tim 2:1-2). In fact, Paul said to Timothy, God desires all kinds of people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4 NASB). Paul had the same desire And in mentoring Timothy, Paul called the young pastor to do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim. 4:5).
What does this have to do with being a welcoming pastor? Everything! We do it for the sake of the gospel! Paul didn’t tell Timothy to be kind to all (2 Tim. 2:24-25) simply for morality’s sake. It was a call to follow Christ’s command in loving others while doing the work of an evangelist.
This means that when I talk to a visitor on Sunday morning before church, I show him or her kindness and love because I’m called to do so. I also do it for the sake of the gospel. I preach Christ in my sermons, I talk about following Christ in my sermons, and when I interact with those in the pews I show them love because I want the gospel to shine through in my words and actions.
A pastor’s love and kindness to members and visitors gives a good name to Christ’s church and brings glory to our Savior. In other words, a pastor lovingly welcomes visitors because he wants them to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth of the gospel (1 Tim.2:4).
[Next week will go more in depth on practical ways to implement this, but here is a taste…]
In many ways, the pastor sets the tone for worship. In Reformed churches we want the pastor to follow Scripture as he leads the service and preaches the Word. Therefore, even the pastor’s pulpit presence should echo the truths of the Bible. The pastor needs to love his neighbors who are in the pews and let that love show in the way he leads worship. If a pastor’s tone and demeanor are stern, robotic, and wooden, it gives the service an unwelcoming and overly formal atmosphere. However, if his tone and demeanor are warm, loving, and personal, it gives the service a more welcoming atmosphere.
There are many ways to show love in the pulpit. For one thing, the pastor can smile and tell the visitors he’s glad they’re there. The pastor (or whoever gives the announcements) can let the visitors know things like where the bathrooms are, where the nursery is, and other information visitors would find helpful. He can also pray for the visitors in the public prayer, thanking God for them and asking him to bless them and help them.
Next Up: Welcoming in Leading Worship & Preaching