Called to be Welcomers
Why do both American and immigrant Christians struggle to follow Paul’s simple exhortation in Romans 15:7, “Therefore welcome one another, just as Christ has welcomed you, to the glory of God”? Since we deeply love the same heavenly Father, why do we not also deeply love his children? Since we will all eat together from the Tree of Life, why do we not dine together in our homes?
In this blog I will share both biblical and practical reasons American and immigrant churches should form loving relationships with one another.
From the beginning of his covenant relationship with the people of Israel, God clearly stated their responsibility to welcome strangers. Leviticus 19:33-34: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” Just as today’s Jews vividly recall the horrors of the Holocaust, those of Moses’ generation recalled centuries of abuse as aliens in Egypt. Jews were to treat outsiders dwelling among them as they had wanted Egyptians to treat them. The command Jesus identified as second-greatest of all, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”, had its initial application to foreigners.
I am not making a statement here about immigration policy, about which Christians can hold different opinions. While we should continue to discuss immigration policy, Christians should hold a unified immigrant policy: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Of what country are you a citizen? Hebrews 11:9, 13 says, “By faith he (Abraham) went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise….These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”
Many today want to emigrate to other countries to escape oppression. Their homelands do not “feel like home” to them. American Christians who see the moral decline of our society grieve the increasing pervasiveness of sin, feeling like aliens in our own homeland.
Yet there is a homeland to which all Christians belong. In Ephesians 2:18-19 Paul tells us “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” Those outside the Christian faith will always have some level of hostility toward Christ and his children. This world is not our home. But all Christians are citizens of the Kingdom of God. By birth we are all citizens of the Kingdom of Darkness, with no right to asylum in Heaven. But God the Father grants free entrance into his Kingdom to all who renounce their former allegiances and kneel before Jesus as King. All of us are undeserving transplants into the Body of Christ.
Brothers and sisters, we Christians of all nations have many reasons to embrace one another. Our primary motivation in doing so should be obedience to God, and secondarily love for one another. Yet all of God’s commandments are designed not to restrict us but to bless us. Let me share 2 practical benefits of church connections for American churches, and 3 for immigrant churches.
First: American churches can expand their Great Commission footprint by working together with nearby immigrant congregations. Healthy churches reach others like them in the local community, and also send missionaries to the ends of the earth. Between the two is a “missing middle” of impacting the peoples of the world who live nearby. An American church acting alone will struggle to reach Mexicans, but can have a meaningful impact among them by using its existing facilities and programs to enhance the ministries of a nearby Mexican congregation.
Second: by working together with immigrant congregations, American churches can enhance their credibility in the community and among their own young adults. Today’s young people experience diversity in their schools, workplaces and entertainment media. The churches in their community may be quite homogenous, unintentionally dampening a spirit of welcome. Deeds of service such as feeding the homeless will send a greater message of welcome to the community if shared by two diverse congregations working together than by one congregation acting independently.
Most American churches acutely feel the departure of its young adults. Millennial Christians still attend churches, but are quite particular about which ones. In The Millennials, Thom and Jess Rainer state, “Millennial Christians will reject churches that tend to view the community as little more than a population pool from which growth in attendance and budget can come. But they will embrace churches that teach members to love the community.” Immigrant churches typically have the youth and vibrancy that some American churches lack. Serving together can be a win for both sides.
Serving together with American churches also brings significant benefits for immigrant churches:
First: American churches can provide larger-scale programming. The average size of an immigrant church in the Twin Cities is 30. 2-3 teens is not enough to hold socially engaging youth activities. Churches with 5 children ages 2-10 cannot provide graded Christian education. Since most immigrant pastors work full-time, volunteer time is limited and numbers are few, it is also difficult to develop evangelistic or community service ministries.
Second: American churches can help in reaching the second generation with the gospel. Most immigrant churches need worship in their mother tongue. Their children attend American schools and clearly prefer English. They may not understand their parent’s worship and teaching. Even if language is not a barrier, they still desire to fit in with their classmates by sharing similar styles of dress, humor, music and more. Thus they may not emotionally resonate with Jesus as presented by their church leadership. In adulthood, second-generation immigrants leave the church in large numbers. When American churches open their children’s and youth ministries to their immigrant friends, they provide venues to reach the next generation in their heart language.
Third: Relationships with American Christians can foster opportunities for growth in employment, income, education and more. In Transcending Racial Barriers, Michael Emerson and George Yancey write, “People of color can gain social capital because of this <interracial> contact, increasing the probability of economic and educational success. A future generated by productive interracial contact is one in which people of color will have access to increased capital to achieve educational and economic success.” All of us informally share opportunities and helpful tips with our friends. Newcomers to the United States don’t know best practices for getting a mortgage, selling a used car, getting into college or seeking a job. When American Christians share their street smarts with those from other lands, they help them flourish in many aspects of life.
When American and immigrant Christians form deep relationships out of love for God and one another, both sides experience significant benefits. So why do we still struggle to welcome one another? Today’s blog focuses on why American and immigrant churches should serve together. In future blogs we will address how to do so. These upcoming blogs will alternate between two themes: practical actions steps for cultivating ministry relationships between American and immigrant churches, and recognition of role models whose ministries embody these action steps. If you know a church leader who would benefit from these upcoming blogs, please invite them to subscribe at our homepage www.connectors.church.