Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: friendliness

Problem or blessing?

At 10 a.m. last Sunday morning half of our congregation was seated in the pews. The song leader rose, walked to the mike and announced the first song. Then he stood there patiently as the other half of the congregation walked in and were shown to their seats.

(We don’t use musical instruments in our churches. Congregational singing is a capella in four part harmony. The song leader sets the pitch and starts the hymn.)

This is quite a common scenario in congregations of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. People walk in the door of the church, see their friends, share greetings, ask what’s new and start to visit; soon it’s time for the service to start and they are still visiting in the foyer. I remember much the same thing happening the very first time we attended a service in this church, 41 years ago at Linden, Alberta.

Is this a problem? Every once in a while someone will ask why we can’t be like other churches where people walk in, find a set and wait quietly for the service to begin. That seems much more solemn and reverent.

I’m not so sure, having visited and even been a member of churches like that. Often the people don’t know each other very well and don’t really have anything to say to their neighbour in the pew.

In one church that my wife and I visited many years ago, at the beginning of the service the pastor asked everyone to stand up, shake hands with the people on ether side and in front and behind and introduce themselves. It seemed genuinely warm – until the end of the service. When the last amen was said everyone got up, turned around and headed for the door without another glance at those around them. We didn’t go back for a second visit.

The problem we have, if problem it be, is that we actually like each other and we want to visit, before the service and after the service. And when there are visitors in church we want to meet them and get to know them. Is there something wrong with that? I thin it’s a blessing.

“Behold how pleasant and how good it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1).

It would be difficult to maintain this level of fellowship if our congregations became too large. Our North American congregations average 100 baptized members. The largest has 300 members. When a congregation becomes too large for the members to know each other well, they will often decide to build a new church a few miles away and part of the membership will choose to make this their new spiritual home.

At the same time, there are always families moving out of these larger congregations and establishing new congregations in new areas. There is a special kind of fellowship that develops as brethren from different areas unite to establish a new congregation in a new location. An additional benefit is that as the local folks become acquainted with these newcomers they might allow their curiosity to be used by the Holy Spirit to investigate the faith and be drawn into the fellowship.

 

The myth of incompetence

“It’s just not my gift to witness to other people about my faith. I get all flustered and nothing comes out right. Other people can do it, but I just can’t.”

Have you ever said something like that? I don’t know if I’ve ever said it, but I’ve certainly felt that way. After experiencing those feelings for many years, a little light began to flicker in my mind and the illumination has increased with time. I have been comparing myself with the wrong people all along. I have looked enviously at people who were smooth-talking and self-assured and thought that I needed to become like them. At the same time, just being around them made me feel inadequate.

There is good news for me, and you, and all the other believers who feel inadequate. Those people we envy and wish to emulate may not be the most effective witnesses for the Lord. We can do it. We can visit about most anything else, why not about the thing that is most important in our life?

The way we listen is more important than the way we talk. The questions we ask are more important than the answers we give, because our questions reveal whether or not we are really interested in the person we are talking to.

Being a good witness for the Lord has to start with noticing the people around us and being interested in them. Show some interest in the people who serve you in stores, coffee shops and restaurants. If you see them frequently, get to know their names, ask them about their family or how their day is going. Don’t be nosy, just friendly. Take time to visit with people, find what their interests are.

Eventually you may sense an opportunity to go a little deeper. Don’t be pushy, let the Holy Spirit guide you. Ask questions, listen, be sympathetic, but don’t be too quick to jump in with suggestions on how to fix things that aren’t working out in their lives. At some point the Spirit my prompt you to share a personal experience. Tell it simply, giving honour to God and not yourself.

Be patient. Keep trying a little friendliness with people you meet. If we come across as superior or pushy, people will clam up, or push back. We might then conclude that the people around us are not interested in the gospel and there is no purpose in trying to talk to them. If we hold back and don’t make small efforts to reach out to others, we come to the same conclusion.

It is comfortable to think that there is no use trying. The Holy Spirit really doesn’t want us to get comfortable with that kind of thinking. That may lead us to direct our efforts into materialism and recreation beyond what is healthy for our spiritual life.

The Holy Spirit wants us to step out beyond our comfort zone, but He is only going to ask us to take one little baby step at a time. We may find that those baby steps take us a long way, into territory that we used to think was completely inaccessible. A little effort can open up whole new vistas for us.

Foreign to Familiar

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The Delta flight was leaving on time. Three of us were strapped in, one next to the other, each finding it easy to make small talk. As the plane lifted off, so did our burdens of office work. We were off to Glorietta, New Mexico, for a week-long conference, and our minds were filled with thoughts of mountains and crisp air and a break from the Atlanta downtown routine.

“So, Sarah,” my aisle-seat colleague said in that chatty manner of a tourist on vacation, “tell me what it was like growing up in Israel.”

Of all conversation openers, this was my least favourite. I’d been hearing it ever since moving to the States to begin my university studies. But, being in the middle seat, I couldn’t escape.

My desire was to respond, “No, you first. Tell me what it was like growing up in a ranch-style house in suburbia.” What was there to say? And who cares anyway?

But I did answer . . . well, sort of. “It was great,” was the extent of my glib answer.

“No, I mean it, really,” she insisted. “What is the culture like over there?”

By the window sat Aida from Lebanon. She’d been in the States eight years and was much more of an expert on Middle Eastern culture than I was. But at the moment Aida seemed to be fascinated by the window. So I took up the challenge.

“Well, I grew up in a variety of cultures. The Jewish and Arab cultures are vastly different.”

“How so?” she asked.

“In the Jewish culture you say what you think. It’s direct, and you know where you stand with people.”

I glanced at her to see if she was still with me. She was, so I continued.

“The Arab culture, on the other hand, is much more indirect. It’s all about friendliness and politeness. If offered a cup of coffee, I say ‘No, thank you.’

“The host offers it again, and I decline again, with something like: ‘No, no, don’t bother yourself.’ He might offer a third time, and I’d reply, ‘No, I really don’t want any coffee, believe me.’

“Then my host serves the coffee, and I drink it.”

“You’ve got to be kidding,” she said, incredulously.

“No, really,” I assured her. “You’re supposed to refuse the first few times. It’s the polite thing to do.”

“Then what if you really don’t want the coffee?” she asked.

“Well, there are idioms that you can use to say that you wouldn’t for any reason refuse their kind hospitality, and at some point in the future you’ll gladly join them in coffee, but at the moment you really can’t drink it.”

Now Aida got into the conversation. “Incredible! I didn’t know that!” she said, as our heads turned her way.

“Aida,” I replied, “what do you mean that you didn’t know that? You’re Lebanese, for heaven’s sake.”

“Yes,” she said, “but I mean that I didn’t know this was not normal. I’ve been in the United States eight years already, and did not know it was done differently here. That explains so much.

“I’ve been lonely since moving here, and now I know why. When people in the office would ask me if I wanted to go to lunch, I would say ‘no’ to be polite, fully expecting them to ask me again. When they didn’t and left without me, I thought they didn’t want me along and had asked only out of politeness. In my culture, it would have been too forward to say ‘yes’ the first time.

“For this reason, I’ve had few American friends. After all these years, now I know why.”

I sat there stunned. Pondering the sadness of her story, I said to myself, “No one should have to suffer like that simply because they don’t understand the culture of another.”

For the Aidas around the world, I have written this book.

Sarah A Lanier


This is the preface to Foreign to Familiar, which I referred to in a previous post. © 2000 by Sarah A Lanier. Used with permission.

The English book is published by McDougal Publishing of Hagerstown, Maryland. ISBN 1-58158-022-3

Editions in Arabic, French, German, Korean, Norwegian, Russian and Spanish are available from the writer at the following address:

Sarah A Lanier
P.O. Box 874Clarkesville GA  30523
USA

Friendliness is next to godliness – part two

“The strong Anabaptist emphasis on discipleship has led to a warm fellowship among the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite congregations and a gentleness in human relations which makes visitors feel unusually welcome among them.”

– page 228, An Introduction to Mennonite History, Cornelius J. Dyck, editor © 1967 by Herald Press.

It was many years ago when I first read the above quote and it gave me the extra courage I needed to first set foot inside the door of a congregation of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite.  I found it to be exactly as described above.

Now we have been members for many years and are no longer total strangers when we visit another congregation.   We are leaving today to visit relatives in south-eastern Saskatchewan and tomorrow morning we will attend the worship service at the Sinclair, Manitoba congregation, the Lord willing.

Is friendliness next to godliness?

Paddy Davis was a lonely old man, a widower whose only son was divorced, depriving Paddy of any contact with his grandchildren.  We could often hear him out in his backyard in the early morning singing the old, familiar hymns.  He had once been a song leader in his church and still had a good singing voice.

One day he came by on his bike as I was working on my daughter’s car.  After a brief greeting, he asked: “Some people say that cleanliness is next to godliness.  Do you agree with that?”

“Well no, I guess I don’t.  I think there are other things that are more important.”

“I think so, too,” Paddy responded.  “Maybe we should say that friendliness is next to godliness.”

And with that he was off, leaving me to contemplate the profundity of his statement.  More than twenty years have passed and that simple statement still echos in my mind.

Clifford Mastre was a North Dakota farmer and a minister of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite.  The sign beside his house said “Welcome” in 12 languages or more.  Clifford was a tall, thin man with just a trace of his Norwegian ancestry in his speech.  He was a gentle and caring man with an infectious enthusiasm.  Elizabeth, his wife, was a perfect match for him.

One day a neighbour came to see Clifford, visibly agitated.  “Your dog killed fifteen of my chickens,” he accused.  Clifford told him how sorry he was, and asked how much the chickens were worth.  The neighbour named a price and Clifford reached into his wallet and paid a little more than the amount his neighbour had named.

Peace was restored and the neighbour went home satisfied.  It was several months, perhaps even years, before the neighbour discovered that Clifford didn’t own a dog, never had.

Something has been niggling away in the back of my mind for a few weeks.  It appears to me that the news media are doing a pretty good job of letting everyone know what Christians are against.  Some Christians have been only too happy to cooperate in putting this kind of information before the public.  Don’t people need to know more than this about Christians?

Righteousness is an important aspect of the Christian faith.  But love and peace are equally important, perhaps even more important.  What do our neighbours say about us?  Do they find us friendly, neighbourly, compassionate, patient, trustworthy?

“When a man’s ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Proverbs 16:7).  May that be true of all of us who bear the name of children of God and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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