Everyone’s Welcome! Are They Really?

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Everyone’s Welcome! Are They Really?

26 August 2015 Hits:8339

Many churches display signs outside their buildings – or on their websites – that express something like, “everyone is welcome.”  But what exactly does that mean and do those churches really mean it?  From my 30 years of experience as a pastor, and nearly 40 years as a Christian, I would say that invariably the “everyone is welcome” sign is just an ill-thought-through platitude rather than a reality.

Consider Eric (not his real name) who sat very tentatively in my office a few months ago telling me his life story. Now in his 50s Eric is single, celibate and same-sex attracted. He’s been a Christian all his life, loves God with a passion, is intelligent and servant-hearted but has found anything but a welcome in churches that display “everyone is welcome” signs. He was told flat out that he wasn’t welcome in one church. Another church told him he could attend but not do anything. Finally he’s found Bayside Church and is starting to settle in and be a productive member of our community.

I think what churches actually mean when they say, “everyone is welcome” is, “everyone is welcome as long as you fit into our idea of what a Christian is. You’re welcome as long as you’re like us, middle to upper class, not too demanding, have problems that are fixed easily and believe and behave like we expect you too.”  Everyone like that is welcome.

At Bayside Church we don’t have a sign that says, “Everyone is welcome” because not everyone is.  Let me give you three kinds of people that we don’t welcome into our church community.

1. Predators

By this I’m not just referring to pedophiles although I certainly wouldn’t welcome those who prey on children into our church community where children are present.  They would need to attend an adult small group where there are no children – ever.  I love kids too much to expose them to that level of risk.  But we’ve experienced some more subtle kinds of predators over the years.  One Saturday evening after our church meeting I chatted with a new guy who told me that he’d been asked to leave a church nearby because he was always hitting on the women in the congregation. He told me he’d be coming to Bayside Church from now on. I promptly told him that he wouldn’t be. I value the women in our church community and, as their pastor, I will seek to protect them from the likes of him. I’ve had that conversation several times over the years and I’ll have it again!  Sexual predators are just not welcome.

The apostle Paul encouraged the excommunication of such a man from the Corinthian church who was having an ongoing affair with his Stepmother (1 Corinthians 5). However, once this man had repented and changed his ways he was welcomed back into the church community (2 Corinthians 2).

We do not welcome spiritual predators either. These are the people Jesus warned us about,“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”  Spiritual predators are actually quite easy to pick – they will always try and draw you to themselves rather than to Jesus.  Watch out for them.

2. Antagonists

In his book, Antagonists in the Church: How to Identify and Deal with Destructive Conflict, Kenneth C. Haugk, a Lutheran pastor and psychologist defines antagonists as, “individuals who, on the basis of non-substantive evidence, go out of their way to make insatiable demands, usually attacking the person or performance of others. These attacks are selfish in nature, tearing down rather than building up, and are frequently directed against those in a leadership capacity.”

There are several warnings in the New Testament for Christians and churches to be on the lookout for antagonistic troublemakers. Paul told the Roman Church, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people” (Romans 16:17-18). He told Titus who was overseeing all the churches in Crete, “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.”  In other words, antagonistic, divisive, gossips that create unrest, division and disunity in a church are simply not welcome!  Our church has been hurt and hindered more by these types of people over the years than anyone else.  I used to try and reason with them but I love Paul’s advice – three strikes and you’re out!

3. Quarrelers

The word “quarrel” is a medieval English word for the crossbow dart that was used to kill or wound the enemy.  In combat, these darts were fired back and forth across the battleground.  The enemy soldiers were said to be “quarreling.”  The meaning is the same today although, instead of using darts, people use words to destroy their opponent.  This is different to a robust but respectful discussion. The aim of the quarreler is the conversion of another person to their point of view or they will attempt to ruin them.  The internet is full of blogs from quarreling Christians seeking to destroy the reputations of others. Have nothing to do with them!

The apostle James warned his readers about these sorts of people, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.” (James 4:1-2)

Paul warns Timothy, “Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen … avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene … don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.” (2 Timothy 2)

In a church community everyone needs to hold fast to the non-negotiable truth of the Gospel – who Jesus is, what Jesus did, what Jesus is doing and what Jesus will do. It’s all about Jesus. On any truth that does not affect people’s salvation there can be respectful discussion and we can agree to disagree.  However, there are those in a church whose goal is to argue, quarrel and be constantly disagreeable. Once again, the New Testament warns us not to have anything to do with such people. They are not welcome. It’s the peacemakers who are blessed – not the quarrelers.

Rob Buckingham

Senior Minister

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16 replies on “Everyone’s Welcome! Are They Really?”

Diannesays:

I have experienced all of the above at a Church I loved and had no way to express it to anyone, because some of those who crush others, are in leadership and are very popular. Rather than make waves, I left to regain my peace. The ussues were never addressed and some are huge and are hurting people. Many have done what I have done and walked away.

Diannesays:

*Issues were never addressed.

Neridasays:

Yes said Rob. Thank you for saying it.

carolesays:

Very insightful. I never thought along these lines of truth before. Tx

Daniel Bodleysays:

Amen mate, you have a beautiful heart and a kind doctrine. I am blessed to have you lead our church mate.

Suesays:

Brilliant more of this truth must bring “on earth as it is heaven ”
There is life and death in the power of the tongue I have found my language has changed and my Love has increased and my communication improved throgh reading the gospel my heart continues to change am very grateful

Briansays:

Some great pearls of wisdom here that i will carry into my own experience. Thanks – timely advice

Stephensays:

While that is an excellent article, it is bemusing that you support divisive word of faith heretics like Rodney Howard-Browne.

Melaniesays:

This is good to know that Bayside takes fornicators seriously, based on what you said in 1 Corintians 5. So many times pastors just say “I don’t agree with your behaviour” but still welcome that person in. It’s good to know that all types of sexual predators, deviants including fornicators and adulterers will be asked to repent before being allowed to come back. Thank you Rob.

Rob Buckinghamsays:

Thanks for your comments Melanie. 1 Corinthians 5 is actually addressing the issue of incest – something that was totally taboo in Bible times and something that is still taboo in this day and age. That’s why Paul refers to “sexual immorality…of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate.” There is a balance between people who are struggling with sin or a habit and are seeking to overcome verses a person who continues to engage in a sin and sees no problem with it. I believe a church should always err on the side of grace though.

Lindsaysays:

I have found that when you deal with the antagonist and quarreler, they suddenly make themselves “victims ” and continue the public attacking based on how badly they’ve been tree! Very sad.

Thanks for a great article. God bless.

Agnessays:

Thank you for your message and a timely reminder to those is a position of care to remain vigilant. My late father was a church pastor and and in the early mission years in the islands he helped bring so many to know God including helping underprivileged and broken people find a home. Our home was also home to many others and I grew up in a home whose doors always seemed to be open to all. Unfortunately one of the young men my father helped and allowed to live in our home sexually assaulted me as a 4-5 year old. I remember that in anger I blurted out what he’d done to me in front of my father and another one of the youths and I remember being taken aside by my parents to question me and my ‘understanding’ of the situation. The predator was also ‘talked’ to but continued to live with us and our home continued to be open to all. I didn’t really understand what happened to me and successfully blocked it out of my mind. Nothing further happened to me but it was not until years later as adults when I was trying to help my younger sister as she battled addiction and multiple suicide attempts that I find she was the next victim if only because she was younger and not able to talk or communicate as well as I did at the time.
I’m sharing this story because I believe we must always be vigilant and sometimes we have to say ‘not welcome here’ when it comes to our house. I am thankful God continues to love me and help me find my way and I continue to pray for my sister whose life is a train wreck as a result of this. There are many things I don’t understand about my past and I have a long way to go. I admit I struggle when I attend church and I am invited to connect with others at church or give the ‘person’ next to me a welcome hug. My children can attend the kids ministries if they want but if they prefer to stay by my side throughout the service, then that is fine with me. People have no idea what a huge leap of faith it was for us to allow our child recently to join the church camp. I have a genuine love for others and pray they find God’s salvation but I grew up also knowing that churches often unwittingly invite people to let their guard down at the door in the name of love and invite them to embrace ALL for just for being there. There is a responsibility with what and who you allow into the house. Yes my guard is up and I suggest that it is my Godly duty to be a wise protector of the children God has gifted into my care. This duty I don’t take lightly and a lesson I am thankful I suffered if only so that my children will not have to go through. I am glad for your message and it is encouraging to see vigilance in your pastoral care. Sometimes we have to take the tough stance and ‘Not on my watch’ is an approach that applies to both our homes and to our Church house. God bless you for that.

Celia Hillsays:

Thanks for sharing your story Agnes and I’m so sorry about what you have gone through. I’m also so sorry about your sister and what her life has become. Let me just say that there is hope for her and I have seen many addicts turn their lives around. So keep praying for her!
I too found that allowing my kids to attend the Church camp was a huge leap of faith and I made sure they clearly understood what was appropriate behaviour from leaders and what was not! It’s not easy to let go but I believe God does let us know through his spirit when something is off and we can then respond appropriately.
Something that has helped me with regard to my children is understanding how predators work and how they prey and groom kids. Understanding the psychology helps you to understand if things are not right, Previous to this I was afraid of every adult that was left alone with my kids, I also found it comforting to know that they rarely target the kids that have parents that are watching. They have a radar for eyes that are on them and it’s often a slow process of working out where the trust is, and that is where they will head. Bayside Church is an amazing and safe place but we still need constant vigilance when it comes to the protection of our kids. Thanks again for being brave enough to share your incredibly sad story. I pray that your experiences will strengthen you as a person.

Johnsays:

1st Corinthians 5:9–13

Does literal “everyone’s welcome” have any limits whatsoever – beyond the above three?

What if a pastor or regular attender of Bayside, who claim to be born again Christians, started persuading everyone that it’s perfectly Biblical to have unmarried sex. And if after much teaching and persuasion from Scripture, they just insist it is not a sin for unmarried people to have sex, at what point at Bayside Church does 1st Cor 5:11 kick in? And I realise it applies to other sins, so I’d assume it should be equally applied to the other stated gross sins that warrant such persons no longer being welcomed.

And what if it is a Bayside pastor who is advocating sex outside covenant marriage – whether between heterosexuals or homosexuals?

Rob Buckinghamsays:

Thanks for your questions John. “If a pastor or regular attender of Bayside, who claim to be born again Christians, started persuading everyone that it’s perfectly Biblical to have unmarried sex” I think you should leave that church. 1 Corinthians 5 is actually addressing the issue of incest – something that was totally taboo in Bible times and something that is still taboo in this day and age. That’s why Paul refers to “sexual immorality…of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate.” There is a balance between people who are struggling with sin or a habit and are seeking to overcome verses a person who continues to engage in a sin and sees no problem with it. I believe a church should always err on the side of grace though. As for a Bayside pastor who is advocating sex outside covenant marriage – no one like that exists!

John Csays:

Pastor Rob has made some very valid points. It is important to note that all of the types of people mentioned here display “predatorial” behavioural attributes. That is to say, they deliberately seek out a target an wreak havoc on that target. That is why Padtor Rob says such people are not welcome – and nor should they be unless they change their ways. Predators are dangerous in nature and by nature.

When it comes to being “vigilant” of other “gross sins”, I feel danger in my spirit. We are not vigilantes charged with judging others without knowing their motives. Only God sees the heart. Self-righteousness is just as “gross” a sin as fornication to God for He says that ALL have sinned and fallen short of the mark. He also tells us to avoid judging others lest we become subject to judgement.

I don’t believe it is for us as members of the Body of Christ to be on the lookout for sin
In our midst – let us not look for the splinter in our brother’s eye. We have to trust our Pastors and Church Elders to herd the flock and be attuned to the wolves in sheep’s clothing that seek to prey on the true sheep. They have God’s mandate to lead and protect.

I, for one, trust my Pastors and honour them with that trust.

So many churches are full of supposedly “born again” Christians who are highly critical of others and, date I say, feel they have the right to judge. I can’t help but wonder what our Lord thinks of this. He regularly fellowshipped with people who had committed these said “gross” sins and yet He lived them. If anyone could have or should have judged, only He has that right.

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