Friday, October 19, 2007

Strauch on Why You Should Hug In Church

I have argued for several years now that a time of greeting ought to be regularly included in the corporate worship services of God's people. This seems to bug a lot of folks, especially those who like to show up 2 minutes after a service begins and leave during a closing song! Others feel it is a disruption to their own focus on the Lord. But I would argue that this is a much too self-centered approach to worship.

Consider, for example, the one reason the New Testament gives us to sing in our corporate worship - "teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom." Singing is to be to one another in our church gatherings... it is not for your pleasure alone.

In like fashion, we need to participate in all aspects of corporate worship... corporately. Think of all the times Paul sent greetings to local churches. Have you ever noticed how many times he told them to "greet one another?" This is a Biblical command for Christians.

I do think there is cultural latitude on the application of the command. My father-in-law used to be a part of a denomination that took this Scripture quite literally and every service began with some smooching. Men kissed the men, and women kissed the women - and never the twain did meet! (Yes, on the lips... think of it in European ways and it is not so threatening... maybe...). Anyway, we don't kiss at Grace, but we often include a time in our worship of God to greet each other - and we try to teach our folks that this is more than "make the visitors feel welcome!" It is another aspect of our worship of God who exists in Trinitarian relationship.

Now, all of this is to introduce this quote from Alexander Strauch's new book "Leading With Love." I have been slowly making my way through this excellent work and trying to work on some weak and sinful areas of my life. But I loved this little section on the physical expressions of love in a church. So I have reproduced it to bless you!

Showing Physical Signs of Affection

One physical expression of Christian love is the “kiss of love,” and it is “one of the beautiful customs of the early Christians.” Peter urged his readers to “Greet one another with the kiss of love” (1 Peter 5:14), which is a practical outworking of his earlier instructions to love one another fervently as brothers and sisters:

Love one another earnestly from a pure heart (1 Peter 1:22)

Love the brotherhood (1 Peter 2:17)

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly (1 Peter 4:8)

This “kiss of love,” which Paul also refers to as a “holy kiss,” is an outward, physical sign of “mutuality ... oneness of status and identity which all Christians share across divisions of race, class, and gender.” But it is a “holy” kiss, not a sensual kiss. It is to be expressed with respect and in all purity.

Whether we apply the “kiss of love” with an actual kiss, hug, or hearty handshake, we are commanded to greet brothers and sisters affectionately. Our greetings to one another should visibly express the reality of our family oneness and love. So let us not be impersonal, standoffish, or cold. Let us not take one another for granted. People need physical expressions of love as well as words of love. This physical expression of love is one concrete, practical way we live out the New Testament command to love “one another earnestly” (1 Peter 4:8).

John Stott, a naturally reserved and proper Englishman, has learned from his extensive world travels, especially to Latin America and Africa, to enjoy the affectionate physical embrace of fellow believers. In closing a letter to a friend, he quips: I “send you a greeting and a hug (I’m now a life-member of the Institute of Hug Therapy!).”

Paul too was a member of the “Institute of Hug Therapy.” At the end of Paul’s farewell message to the Ephesian elders, Luke records: “And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him” (Acts 20:37).

The children in our churches need to feel expressions of love too. Our Lord Jesus welcomed children. They were a joy to him. He was not too busy to pay attention to them. He touched, prayed for, and blessed them (Matt. 19:13-15). Mothers and children felt comfortable coming to Jesus because his nature was welcoming and affectionate. Let us also be protec¬tive of and loving toward children.

The local church is “the household of God” (1 Tim. 3:15) and should be filled with loving words and demonstrations of familial affection. Sadly, the atmosphere in some churches is more like a funeral home than a loving family home. There is little affection and warmth.

Legitimate emotional feelings are suffocated. People hardly know one another. They keep their distance, and the only display of affection is a speedy handshake before exiting the church doors. Such behavior is not authentic Christian brotherhood and sisterhood. It does not represent people who are faithful to the “new commandment.”

How to Get Started

To create a more loving atmosphere in your local church or in a group you lead, start by regularly praying for growth in love. Use these Scriptures as a guide in your prayers:

  • And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more. (Phil. 1:9)
  • And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all. (1 Thess. 3:12)
  • [I pray] that you ... may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. (Eph. 3:18-19)

Even if your church or group is a loving body, you always can excel still “more and more” in love (1 Thess. 4:10,). Teach what the Bible says about love. How often do people hear a careful exposition of 1 Corinthians 13, Ephesians 3:14-19 and 4:1-16, or 1 John 4:7-21? Most church-goers do not know the biblical demands of love and need in-depth teaching on this subject. Challenge the people you lead to grow in love.

An atmosphere of love doesn’t come by teaching alone. Church leaders need to model love. There are teachers, musicians, and others in the church who have voluntarily served for years. They need to know that their faithfulness to God and the congregation is appreciated. Express your gratitude to them and encourage others to do the same. There are people who clean, repair, and maintain the church building; don’t let them go unnoticed. They should be thanked verbally or with a gift or card. Don’t take anyone for granted. God doesn’t!

Don’t allow your church to be a place where members of the body of Christ have only superficial interaction, or worse, where they come and go without even speaking to one another. Again, it is your responsibility to lead by example. The church is not a business corporation, military institution, or government agency. It is the “household of God,” so act accordingly. Reach out to others in love. Greet them with a “kiss of love,” an affectionate hug, or a “holy handshake.” Make it a point to remember people’s names.

The church is to be a close-knit family of brothers and sisters who express Christ’s love to one another. It is to be a life-transforming community where people grow and become more like their loving Lord. Your church can become a more loving community and experience greater unity as you teach and lead with love.

From: A Christian Leader's Guide to Leading With Love by Alexander Strauch. (Lewis and Roth, 2006). Another critical work for pastors is Strauch's Biblical Eldership - I highly commend it to you!