Our Church Welcomes You! (On Our Own Terms, of Course)
"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it" (Hebrews 13:2).
"The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God" (Leviticus 19:34).
I had been reading in our local paper that the New Orleans Museum of Art’s display of artifacts from the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 would be closing its run soon, and I wanted to see this. My wife was out of town, so this would be a good time.
So, that Tuesday afternoon, after finishing my hospital rounds, I drove to the museum in City Park, arriving around 4 pm. I made my way around the barricades that obstructed the newly completed entrance and prepared to buy a ticket. Signs said the museum closed at 5 pm. And yet, something was wrong.
The entrance was closed and the ticket booth was shut down.
I stood there a moment wondering if I’d been mistaken about the time.
Just then, a couple of young adults stepped out of the ticket booth. I said, “Are you closed?”
One of the men said, “The exhibit takes two hours to see, so we stop selling tickets at 4 o’clock since you could not complete it before the museum closes.” I was stunned.
For this I drove 40 minutes across town?
Feeling like an idiot, I said, “You’re closed? But the sign says you close at 5, and it’s 4 o’clock now." When he repeated himself, I saw I was getting nowhere and not wanting to be confrontational, I walked away. I muttered, “Great!” but meant anything but that.
I have never spent more than 30 minutes on any exhibit, even including the Claude Monet water lilies a few years back. But the museum will not sell me a ticket unless I agree to spend two full hours inside?
Walking back toward the parking lot, I spotted several people getting out of cars. “Folks,” I said, "They won't sell you a ticket. They say it takes two hours to see it and the museum closes at five, so they’re shutting down the entrance now.” They looked as puzzled as I felt. A woman emerging from an outside booth overheard this and picking up on my frustration, called out, “Come on. I’ll sell you a ticket.”
I said, “No, ma’am. Thank you.” She said something to the effect that she would make an exception for us.
I felt like saying this is not about us–although my blood pressure said otherwise–but was about a publicly funded institution that has forgotten why it exists: to serve the public. Now, if this were a government agency, we would understand. We're all familiar with the kind of legalistic, bureaucratic redtape these things can produce.
Driving away, I said to myself over and over, "All right. Don't let it spoil your day."
So, I pulled into a nearby book store and spent an enjoyable half-hour browsing, then visited a favorite restaurant near the lake and had a good meal. An hour later, I led a home Bible study in our neighborhood and arrived home in good spirits around 9 pm.
That evening, thinking back on that little episode, I asked myself, "Will I go back to see the museum exhibit? Not Likely. I’ve sort of lost my enthusiasm for it at the moment."
That was perhaps 10 years ago and I've not been in the museum since. (But not, I hasten to add, for any reason other than they’ve not had an attraction in which I was interested.)
Do churches do this, I wonder.
Do churches restrict their hours and their offerings for their own convenience and to satisfy their own constituents with no thought to those who might like to get in on what they offer?
I think I know the answer to that, and it’s not good.
Do churches make it hard to find out what time they have services? (One church refused to erect a sign with the times of services because some said it would spoil the decor of the lawn.)
Do churches leave you wondering which door to enter or where to park? (I can show you some here in my city.)
Do churches ever freeze you out, giving the strong impression that they like their membership just as it is and would prefer that a loser like you would find another house of worship?
Help us, Lord.
It pains me no end to realize that people look at Christians and at churches and make decisions about Jesus. We represent Him so poorly.
Help us to get this right, Father. Help us to be servants and not hirelings.