We’re in the middle of a several-week series called Topical Tuesdays, where you pick the topic and I make up answers.  You can add your topic / question to the list by commenting on this post.  Today’s question is submitted by Curt (too cool to have a last name.  It’s just Curt).:

What are some of the scriptural foundations for your philosophy of the First Impressions ministry? It is easy to find extra-biblical insights on making good impressions on strangers that are our guests, but I am more interested in biblical insights that direct how you think about the First Impressions ministry.

[The following is adapted from a post that originally appeared on the Summit’s Equip blog.]

I appreciate this question because it makes it appear that what I do is almost legitimate.  If you’re in the ministry and can’t come up with a theology of why you do something, then you should get out of the ministry.  Or at least write a theologically soft, major best-selling book with promotional tie-ins such as accompanying devotionals, journals, and wall art.

Oh, and salt and pepper shakers if you can swing it.

Here at the Summit, we believe strongly in the power of the first impression.  Our goal is not just to have a bunch of new visitors on the weekend, but to welcome guests into our family.  And believe it or not, the foundations of that come from scripture.

First, the Old Testament.  God commands the wandering Israelites to practice hospitality with strangers: “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.” (Lev. 19:33-34)  The Israelites knew what it was like to be the new guy in town.  They knew how it felt to be disliked, ignored, mistreated, and misunderstood.  In God’s wisdom, he challenged them to forever remember the feeling of being an outsider, and to use that emotion to bring outsiders in.

The entire Pentateuch is filled with references to both sojourning in a strange land and welcoming sojourners to your land.  God’s call – and my hope – is that we’ll never get over the memories of what it’s like to be on the outside.

In the New Testament, Paul continues the metanarrative of hospitality throughout the epistles.  Here’s just a sampling…

•    Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. (Rom. 12:13)
•    Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. (1 Pet. 4:9)
•    Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (Heb. 13:1)

The point of these passages should be self-explanatory, so as a pastor, let me explain it to you: God wants us to care about people.  A church that is only concerned about those in the church is not a church at all, but a social club.  There are far too many churches where you have to crack the code or know the language or master the secret handshake in order to feel like you belong.  But the New Testament church was one of openness, love, and sincere hospitality for the stranger.

Alexander Strauch says that hospitality is the launching pad for the gospel.  It is through our love that people often experience God’s love for the first time.

Next week: a question about the end of the world.  Buckle your seat belt!