Audrey Chan — Leichester, United Kingdom
I remember going on holiday to the
some years ago. As with most holidays, there was a lot of travelling involved
and an obligation to fit in as much sight-seeing as time would allow.
It was good that it was punctuated
with a visit to a local church for a service. The atmosphere was lovely, and
the brothers and sisters were genuinely welcoming and friendly. Sitting in the
chapel and taking part in the services, I felt I had come home.
Now, as I reflect on that
experience and others since that time, I feel that the climate of a church is
so important. A warm church is a good place for the congregation and is also
welcoming to friends searching for the truth. It is an indication that all is
well in the community of faith, the members are at peace with one another, and
everyone has the resources and capacity to extend their love to others.
Every local church can be a warm
church. There is no secret—it is merely about each of us having an awareness of
who we are, and making time to grow close, to be proactive, and to show love.
An awareness of who we are
I grew up in a church where
members made a habit of calling each other ‘Brother’ and ‘Sister’. I think this
is a good practice because each time we say these words, we are reminded that
we are members of the same family and that we belong to the household of God
When we take time to reflect, it
is truly amazing that we, as a group of people from such diverse backgrounds, can
come together. In other circumstances, we might never have met. But because of
the perfect gospel and the precious blood of Jesus Christ, we are joined as a
community of faith (Acts 20:28). We have great things in common, sharing all
the ‘ones’ that the apostle Paul famously talks about in his letter to the
Ephesians: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and
one God and Father (Eph4:4-6).
Whether we celebrate each other’s
company or merely tolerate one another depends on whether we have an awareness
of our special identity. If the former, then this melting pot of personalities,
cultures, and backgrounds will have no problems brewing harmony and love.
Fortunately, God has given us time
to practice and to get things right. As we worship and serve God together, we
should be mindful to not only focus on the act or task at hand. For running in
parallel is a lesson in interpersonal relationships—a lesson that challenges us
to develop Christ-like qualities such as patience, forbearance, humility, and
respect for others (Eph 4:2-3; Phil 2:1-4).
One day, and by the grace of God,
all the hard work and practicing will end, as we go together to the heavenly
kingdom. This is both a joyous and a sobering thought—reminding us to live out
the family spirit here on earth, for there will come a time when we will spend
an eternity together.
Making time to grow close
Last year, a national UK survey confirmed
findings of what many people had long suspected: church attendance within the
general Christian community in the UK is at an all-time low, and professing
belief in God while opting out of active church attendance is now officially
the norm rather than the exception. Increasingly, people do not see the need to
fellowship and bond together in the faith.
The church is part of God’s
gracious plan for us, and it is an important resource for all to access. By
coming together in fellowship, we can offer and receive encouragement and
teaching (Heb ), and
we can grow together spiritually. Isolated faith and lone journeys do not have
a place in God’s plan.
In fact, God never intended for each
of His believers to walk alone on the
journey of faith. Every Christian needs encouragement and support. Moreover, a
lone Christian can be vulnerable to attacks from the devil (1 Pet 5:8).
When we read the book of Acts,
which gives an account of the development of the early church, we are left with
a distinct impression of a community that thrived on fellowship. Members took
hold of every opportunity to not only worship in the temple, but also to spend
time together breaking bread in each other’s homes (Acts ). God rewarded their unity of spirit by
adding to their numbers on a daily basis.
Today’s church will do well to take
lessons from the early church. It needs to foster opportunities for its members
to grow in Christ and to grow together in unity. It can do this by creating
different ways for worship and fellowship that are responsive to the needs of
There is a place for formal
services, but there also needs to be opportunities for smaller scale and
informal gatherings where members can study the Bible together, pray, share the
grace of God, and discuss the ministry of the church.
Fellowship is foremost about
worship, but it is also an opportunity for members to develop good
communication, mutual understanding, and a family spirit.
Being proactive is a key
ingredient for a warm church. It is where members have a realization that they
are not guests or strangers, but rather fellow citizens in the household of God
(Eph ). Their actions
show that they understand what needs to be done, and that their role counts. There
is no need for coaxing and pushing, for everyone is happy and willing to play
an active part in church life.
We can all make a conscious effort
to be proactive. The basic requirement is to have the heart to serve God, and
to ask God continually to inspire us to do so. Then we open our ears and eyes
to anticipate and to see what needs to be done.
Members don’t always have to be proactive
on a grand scale. It can be manifested in the smallest of ways—the greeting of
a visitor who enters the chapel for the first time, opening a door for someone,
or offering a listening ear to someone who has had a difficult week. At the
other end of the scale, it might entail volunteering when there is a need for
workers in various aspects of the church ministry.
Being proactive may sometimes take
courage, especially if it involves paving a culture change within a local
church. But with God’s help, one good action will spark another—potentially
igniting the whole church.
Leading By Example
Leadership is also important where
key workers have a vital role to play, both in fostering an environment that
build up proactive members and by leading the exemplary way (1 Pet 5:3). If
leadership wasn’t important, the Bible would not include specifications for
good ministers (cf. Acts 6:3; Tit 1:7-8).
The adage, “actions speak louder
than words” was Apostle Peter’s encouragement to key workers to set a good
example for the congregation (1 Pet 5:3), for often the congregation will take
its cue from the leaders of the church. The latter, therefore, are key players
in developing a healthy Christ-like culture within the church for fellowship.
How sad if workers were to carry
out their appointed tasks, however avidly, but with indifference to the
members. It would be a case of missing the point.
Within the church, there are
members who are rich and members who are poor; some who have generally peaceful
lives and others who have more than their share of problems; and some with good
mental and physical health while others are without. This diversity of
circumstances gives plentiful opportunities for the Christian community to show
love. For if everyone was the same, there would be little or no reason to
extend our helping hand.
The Bible reminds us that we are all
one body in Christ and calls us to love one another without partiality (Eph
4:4; 1 Jn 4:7; Jas 2:1-5). We all know this in theory, but this is probably one
of the most challenging aspects of Christian living.
Life is busy, time always seems
short, and showing love—properly showing love—can be demanding on our schedule,
energy, patience, or more. It is often easier to live our own separate lives
and assure ourselves that we will do good when we have more resources.
Yet the Bible urges us that the
time to show love is now. It teaches us to not only look out for our own
interests, but for the interests of others (Phil 2:4). It inspires us to
actively do good to our brethren and to not grow tired in doing so (Gal
And there is a reward for those
who show love unconditionally to the community of faith: they will grow
spiritually and learn the truth of what Jesus meant when He said: “It is more blessed
to give than to receive” (Act ).
The fact is, showing love is evidence that God’s grace is more than sufficient
in our lives, and it is also evidence that we realize we can only love because
God first loved us (1 John 4:19).
The early church applied love in
very practical ways. It shared its wealth, helped widows, practiced hospitality,
and gave aid to poorer congregations (Acts 2:44-47, 4:32-35, 6:1-6, 9:36-42,
11:27-30; Phm 7; 1 Cor:1-3). From their example, we understand that love is
literally not in word or speech, but in deed and in truth (1 Jn ).
Every local church can be a warm church.
It just needs everyone working together to make it happen. The end results are
A warm church is good for the
congregation because everyone can feel what it’s like to be in God’s family—an
anticipation of what is to come in the heavenly kingdom.
It is also positively good for
evangelism. Friends seeking the truth will come into our midst and be drawn by
both the gospel and by our works of love, which is the gospel in action. They
will see that we love one another and that we belong to Christ (Jn -35), and they will want to be
part of this wonderful community.
What a powerful way to preach.