Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting up with a close and trusted Hindu relative over coffee and delicious chocolate-orange cake at John Lewis. After a quick catch-up, conversation moved on to how my relative had been invited to an interfaith initiative involving a group of some 20 people visiting a local mosque, synagogue, gurdwara and church.
She recounted how welcoming the gurdwara’s Sikhs were as they shared the importance they give to acts of service and blessing the community through food. The Muslims at the mosque were equally hospitable, taking the time to sensitively explain the basis of their faith, before ending the visit with an array of tasty Asian snacks. The synagogue had also made an enormous effort, its representatives laying on refreshments and considerately expounding the Jewish religion. I then listened with huge disappointment to how the church visit had gone – the interfaith group had been given nothing more than a brief, five minute lesson on the building’s history and an invitation to ‘take a look around for yourselves’. Not only that, but one of the two Christians hosting them remarked that they had to dash off shortly to attend some other meeting.
As I cycled home later that day, I mulled over what I had heard. That I was disappointed would put it mildly! How could the church have got it so wrong? Some 20 people from different faith backgrounds had come to visit a church, but rather than leaving with the gospel and a profound sense of Jesus’ love for them, they left with negative feelings about the experience and Christianity itself.
No welcome, no talk on the Christian faith, no mention of the Bible, no food, no refreshments, no gospel. Not one single word about the gospel. My relative described the church as being dead. Fortunately, she was able to share with the other group members that she had experienced better hospitality at another church she had visited and she tried to portray Christians in a more positive light. How much this washed with them I don’t know, but given their experience I doubt it changed much.
An evangelistic opportunity had been utterly wasted. The cross stood tall in that church building on the wall, but there was no follower there to sensitively share the amazing grace of God that it represents. God almighty coming Himself to die for those He had created – what might this message have meant to those visitors? A King dying for His friends that they may be restored and have life, if only they would believe? The opportunity to share God’s crazy act of love for wretched sinners like you and me had been missed. I despaired.
My disappointment subsided to a point as I remembered how frequently I had messed up in my witness to non-Christians. How I had said the wrong thing, how I had failed to speak sensitively, how I had failed to show love. I was also guilty of failing to be the ambassador God calls me to be in Jesus Christ.
As I approached home, the irony of what had happened suddenly dawned upon me. It was my Hindu relative who had been left to try and persuade the group that there were other Christians and churches that were warm and welcoming. The Hindu had had to evangelise on our behalf, encouraging the group to not reject Christianity all together. Is this what we have come to? Have we become so dulled that we have to leave it to a Hindu to defend our faith?
Of course, this incident is not typical of all churches. I know so many who would have gone all out to make the most of such an opportunity, with feasting, warm hospitality and sensitive sharing of the gospel. Nonetheless, the penny had truly dropped. Many churches are sound asleep and the consequences of our failing to act are made clear in no uncertain terms in the Book of Revelation. ‘Wake up!’ could well be Jesus’ message to us today (Revelation 3:2).
There is indeed much to be done to revive our sleeping churches and to reach our nation for Christ. What particularly impressed those on the interfaith tour as they visited each venue was hospitality, food and clear teaching – three simple principles we can embrace today if we are going to reap the harvest.