Several cars dotted the parking lot at the church building when I pulled into it. Most were parked near the fellowship building where the ladies’ Bible class was being held. But there was one car which was sitting off to itself, parallel to the street, and very near the door of the main building which I planned to enter. It was clear that the occupant of this car did not plan to participate in the class, and that she had conveniently pulled into the parking lot to get out of the line of traffic.
Usually, when I notice a stranger parked in the lot, I will ask them if they need help, or if they are wanting to talk with someone from the church. The occupant of this car was speaking on her phone, so I continued past her and entered the building. Just before shutting the door, I turned to give her a southern-style wave of acknowledgement. She had ended her call and was wiping tears.
Not knowing exactly how to handle the situation, I started back out the door to see if I could help, but she put the car in gear, and headed down the street.
As she left, I couldn’t help but wonder if my arrival and actions had prompted her abruptness in ending the phone call and driving away. Did she think she was interrupting or obstructing some church event? Did she think that I considered her a trespasser? Did she think I wanted her to leave, and that I was returning to ask her to do so?
I hope not.
And I think probably not. Probably, she had come to a stopping place in the conversation, and she needed to deal with the emotional news (whatever it was) on her own. I’m also confident that she would have been reluctant to share it with a male stranger.
But the experience did make me wonder about how outsiders view the church when they encounter its members.
Do we give them the impression that they are an obstacle parked in the way of our carrying out our daily mission, or do we give them the impression that being available to offer them support is our mission?
Do we give them the impression that we feel that they are trespassing on private, “holy” ground, or do we give them the impression that we fervently desire to help them come into the presence of the only one who can make anything holy?
Do we give them the impression that we had rather they leave us alone, or do they feel welcomed, accepted, supported, and loved in our presence?
May we, as Jesus’ representatives to the world, always exhibit the same loving concern for others as he exhibited. May the world be drawn to Jesus because they have met us, and not in spite of the fact that they have encountered us.
“The people held them in high esteem, and more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.” (Acts 5:13b, 14) ESV
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