Become a Minister of Friendliness
Shake Some Hands, Change Some Lives in your Church
“A man who has friends must himself be friendly” Proverbs 18:24 (NKJV)
We were enjoying our visit to the suburban congregation, but then after the wonderful time of worship, there came an awkward shift when everyone was asked to turn and shake hands with persons nearby. I knew the drill, have done the same many times myself while trying to encourage warmth and friendliness within the congregations I’ve pastored. However, though several complied and politely offered their hand toward my wife and I, there was a noticeable coldness, lack of eye contact... nearly the appearance of pain on the faces of many.
I was taken back, and whispered to my wife, “Is it me? Did I forget to shave or something?” Determined to break through this frosty barrier, I then launched myself forward again, this time grinning, greeting, hugging, shaking hands with everyone and everything in a 20 foot radius! Some folk appeared shocked by such an aggressive, friendly visitor. Others seemed delighted and kept smiling at my wife and I for the remainder of the service.
Ironically, I’ve experienced this same scenario in many churches across the country. It seems very odd that my wife and I sometimes end up as the friendlier people in the various churches we visit… although we’re complete strangers there. Is this really the way it should be?
At first, it seems strange to encounter persons in a church gathering, trying to remain isolated and withdrawn from others... but there can be a number of explanations why. Some simply have a shy or introverted personality. Others may be dealing inwardly with personal hurts or wounds. Perhaps some wrestle with feelings of distrust or hesitancy toward others. And there are those who simply struggle with a sense of “self-absorption,” who really don't see the need to interact beyond their personal interests. The writer of Proverbs said, “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire” (Proverbs 18:1).
This, however, reveals one of the most important reasons why we “NEED” to attend church. We all have a great need to pull our attention away from ourselves... first, to focus on and worship our Lord Jesus, that His presence might be manifest (Matthew 18:20)... but also to practice love toward one another, to encourage, help and minister to the lives of others. A constant inward focus, that dwells only about ourself... our problems, our needs, our interests, our desires... is unhealthy and only serves to hinder our spiritual growth. Redirecting our love, concern, and care toward our brothers and sisters in Christ can enable the Lord to bring renewed strength and healing into our own lives.
What an irony, some seem to think church is about “themselves,” but in reality it’s more about “one another.” In fact, the scripture that most strongly urges against the idea of skipping church, emphasizes this very thing. “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
This will not come as a surprise to those who already practice this, but loving, encouraging, serving and giving of yourself to the needs of others, is the means God uses to bring blessing back into “your” life. This was a part of what Jesus was referring to when He said, “Give, and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:38). When we give ourselves away... to help and uplift someone else, God is able to do His divine work in us. It goes without saying, if our attention is centered only on “self,” it will only serve as a spiritual hindrance from what God wants to do in us. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4 NIV).
A potluck dinner is probably one of the best metaphors of what the typical church is really supposed to be like. Everyone brings something to contribute to the dinner, and consequently everyone ends up getting their fill of a wonderful assortment of foods and dishes. In most such potlucks I’ve experienced, the ladies of the church usually bring their very best home-cooked dishes… and the assortment and quality generally rivals the most exquisite restaurants. Wouldn’t it seem silly if a person would bring a dish such as a meatloaf, and then ate only their own meatloaf for the dinner? Ugh! And likewise, how bland and empty persons will find the church, if they only focus on themselves and seek only to fill their own need. Give of yourself, and you’ll find that your generosity will come back to you… in ways you could never do for yourself!
In my early days of pastoring, one of the most awkward responsibilities for me at first was to visit persons in the hospital. I didn’t think I always knew the right thing to say or do. However I eventually learned that none of that was really a concern, that merely my presence or a simple prayer was all that was needed… as an expression of love and concern that lifted their hearts. And to my surprise, I soon found myself being blessed and encouraged far more than the dear folks I was visiting. Some of the most spiritually enriching times of my life occurred while trying to encourage people in the hospital... and I can definitely attest to the fact that giving of my time to love and minister to others, has done more for me than anyone I was trying to help.
So can such a simple thing as friendliness really make much of a difference in anyone’s life? Absolutely. Not only does it create an appealing warmth that invites persons to come back to church... so hopefully they will follow Christ with their life… but God can use our friendliness to make a direct life-changing impact.
During an evening service years ago I spotted a visitor in the the back who appeared alone and distressed. At the service conclusion he lowered his head and began a hasty departure, evading our ushers as he made his way to the exit. But by taking a shortcut to the rear, I was able to pop up at the door just as he emerged. He was startled, and as I reached out to shake his hand and thank him for coming… he immediately burst into tears. He later told me that he had intended to run out the door to “end his life.” He had been overwhelmed with problems, discouragement, depression… but confided that my simple hand-shake and kind gesture at the door changed his heart. That night he decided to turn his life and problems over to Christ.
Be assured, your gestures of compassion are never wasted. Give God something to work with, and He can use the simplest act of kindness to make all the difference in a person’s life.
Suggestions to Begin your Ministry of Friendliness (Seasoned with humor!)
1. Consider friendliness as a genuine ministry. Think of “being friendly” and “shaking Hands” as an outreach (“out-reach”, get it?). Even if you’re a bit shy at such things, pray for boldness… take it seriously and ask God to use you, and He will!
2. Look for opportunities. Express friendliness to all and extend your hand as appropriate, but never put pressure on anyone to shake hands. Some people deal with a fear of germs, and a few simply don’t like to touch hands. It does no good to arm-wrestle anyone to the floor, to prove that he’s welcome at church!
3. Clean hands are a must. If you plan to shake hands, make sure yours are washed and that your nails are clean and trimmed. Ladies especially are very sensitive to this. No heavy perfumes or lotions. Worried about being infected by germs? There are several new long-lasting hand sanitizers that provide up to 6 hours of germ protection, such as Zylast. Churches ought to stock up!
4. Offer a firm, confident two-count handshake. Take their hand firmly (“not” with a hulk hogan vise grip), and shake it deliberately. Take the lead, avoid the limpy, gripless technique that forces them to do all the hand shaking. And don’t be hesitant or brief. That suggests you didn’t want to shake their hand to begin with.
5. Don’t show prejudice with your friendliness. Don’t avoid anyone because they look like a loser, are unattractive or of a different color. Be enthusiastic toward all. And hey, guys, don’t just shake hands with pretty girls! Keep the hand-shaking out in the open public view, not back in a dark corner somewhere. And if someone looks creepy or scary… don’t go it alone. Just go find one of the equally scary church elders to team up with you in greeting such ones. God loves even creepy people! (kidding)
6. Be sure to Smile. This may sound weird, but you may need to practice smiling in a mirror… so that others can interpret whether you’re happy to see them. No kidding, some smiles don’t look like smiles, so try it out on a friend before you scare somebody at church. No, don’t fabricate yourself or be phony in any way… but just learn how to transfer what’s in your heart through your face!
7. Make eye contact. In the wild, if confronted by a bear, survivalists are taught to avoid eye contact. However, good news... the person at church is probably not a bear, and you are not in the woods, so make plenty of eye contact... without winking, bulging or crossing your eyes. Looking away means that you’re not really interested in them. Looking down means something similar… or that you’ve lost something!
8. Say something nice, like "God bless you," or "we appreciate you," or maybe "wasn't the service great?" (The pastor will love that one!) Offer your name, and if they respond with theirs, try to memorize it so you can greet them by name next time. Avoid comments about the stench of their breath, hairy arms or body odor. And it’s probably best “not” to say something like “Thanks for visiting,” unless you know they really “are” a visitor… lest you find out later they’ve been members for decades!
9. Friendliness can always use good hygiene and smell fresh! Use breath mints, anti deodorant... and also carry kleenex and a couple packets of hand wipes. Why? I’m not sure, but they may come in handy!
By the way, fraternal hugs can be a terrific expression between believers at church (between the same genders, and if okay'd by your pastor), however hugs for visitors might be best reserved until later, after you get to know them a bit. It's better than getting punched out for being too chummy!
Now go forth… and be Friendly!