For 5 years I was the pastor of Trinity International Church in Strasbourg, France. I created this blog with those people in mind. In mid-November 2018 I will become the Senior Pastor of Word of Life Church in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The focus of this blog will therefore shift, but I pray that people from the blogosphere will continue to find it helpful wherever they might be found.
The churches' websites includes recorded sermons for those who are interested. Click the links below to access them.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Called to Welcome People from All Nations

In the New Testament era, the Roman Empire dominated the Mediterranean world. They developed a system of roads and shipping that knit peoples from various cultures into a single economic system. But another factor played a significant role: Greek. While many people spoke different languages at home, Greek was the common trade language. This allowed people from many cultures to communicate with one another and exchange ideas and information.

The roads and common language allowed the gospel to cross both cultural and linguistic barriers. The conditions were ideal for the growth of the church.

We live in the same situation today here in Europe. English has become a common trade language, with about 850 million people speaking English as a second language. Almost half the people in EU understand English well enough to have a conversation. This means that English has become a tool that can help the gospel leap from one language group to another...just like Greek did in the first century!

People are on the move and we see that here in Strasbourg. Transportation systems have made travel easy. Walk around our streets and you will see people living here that have come from around the world. As a result of being one of Europe's capitals, we also have a large number of people from various European nations. Many of these people speak English.  As an international church, we are strategically placed to reach these people. There are people here from countries that are closed to the gospel. We must reach out to them. There are others who are from countries that are open but they find themselves here in our city. We are called to open our arms to them.

Not only that, but as Christians from multiple cultures gather together there is a cross-pollination that takes place that causes everyone to be more effective and fruitful in their Christian lives. For those of us who remain here in Strasbourg, these people will help us grow in our relationship with Jesus. For those who return to their home country, we will have had an impact on their lives that will cause them to be dynamic servants of Jesus. It is an incredible God-given opportunity to be a part of what God is doing in reaching the nations in these last days.

Where Do We Start?

Our ministry begins with welcoming people. We need to be the ones who walk across the room and greet other people. There is a risk in this, particularly in our church! You never know where the other person is from or whether they even speak the same language as you. It is not unusual to find people from the other side of the planet at our church. Sure, there are many French people, but just last week I met people from India, Indonesia, the United States, and South Africa! I often meet people who are not Christians. Some come to the church because they are interested in Christianity, but others come simply to work on their English. You never know what will happen when you walk across the room to say hello!

I am not by nature an outgoing person. I prefer to hang out with people that I already know. But I have come to realize that walking across the room is a spiritual discipline that is essential for my Christian growth. By "discipline" I mean something that I must do whether I feel like it or not. It is a simple act of obedience that positions me so that I can either give or receive, depending on what God wants to do at that moment. Perhaps this new person simply needs to be encouraged and God wants me to do it. Or maybe they are going to be used by God to teach me something! Every trip across the room to welcome others is a spiritual adventure that I have learned to relish.

What about those awkward moments when I discovered that I do not speak their language? The answer is amazingly simple: I find someone who can! This is another way that God uses the discipline of walking across the room. I need to learn what languages other people in the church speak so that I can make the connections. This helps build community.

One of the advantages of meeting strangers in a church setting is that religious conversations are perfectly acceptable. Because others are here in the church setting we can quickly turn the conversation to the Lord. Even if the person is not a Christian, they will not be offended. After all, they are in the church! But what happens more frequently as the other person is a believer and we can begin to explore what God is doing in one another's lives.

I have seen the trajectory of people's lives change because they were welcomed at Trinity. People have been healed of past hurts. People have become followers of Christ. People have been called into missions. People have learned how to relate the gospel to their employment. People have learned to serve. And it all started because they were welcomed. Without that first step by someone else, they may have missed what God had in store for them.

What Specifically Does TICOS Do To Welcome People?

  • We work at creating an atmosphere where people feel comfortable, where cross-cultural conversations are enjoyed, and difficulties caused by cultural and language barriers can be met with laughter and joy rather than fear and embarrassment.
  • We welcome people at the door. A simple greeting and short conversation are aimed at helping people feel comfortable as they arrive. Some of our greeters are true polyglots and they can respond in the heart languages of people from a variety of nations.
  • We hold regular social events. These events include things like potlucks, bowling, picnics, and hiking. They are designed to help us build relationships with one another and are an important part of our strategy.
  • We provide translation services. We currently translate our services into French via headsets. We realize that in our setting, French is more commonly spoken than English. While English is an international trade language, many people living here are more comfortable in French than in English. You may also notice we have a great tolerance in our services for informal translation that takes place as someone is translating for others who are unfamiliar with French or English.
  • We have coffee and snacks after church. It is a fact of human nature that many people will stay and talk with others if they have a cup of coffee in their hands. So we intentionally provide refreshments after each service so that people will be encouraged to stay and build relationships with one another. 
How Can I Be Involved?
  • Change a sentence in your head. Most of us scan the room looking for people we know. When we see a stranger we think, "I am not going to talk to them because I do not know them." Cross that out like this: "I am not going to talk to them because I do not know them." and replace it with the sentence, "There is a friend I haven't met yet!" Try it and watch what happens as you replace a negative statement with a positive one.
  • Invite people for a meal. Building relationships takes some time. Invest in relationships by inviting people out for a meal or having them over for dinner. There is something about eating together that builds bonds between people. 
  • Volunteer to welcome people on Sunday mornings. If you would like to help welcome people on Sunday mornings become a greeter! There is a sign-up form that can be accessed through our weekly ebulletin. If you are not sure about what is involved there is also a person to contact listed there as well.
  • Volunteer to set up the refreshments. Perhaps you would like to welcome others in a practical way by making the coffee and setting out the other refreshments on Sunday mornings. There is a sign-up form in our ebulletin where you can pick a Sunday to volunteer. Of course, we can also help you learn how to do everything that is involved so do not worry if you don't know how to make coffee in a large pot!

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