After graduation from high school, I started working on the summer staff at Big Lake Youth Camp near Sisters, Oregon. Gary Rust was the camp director. Under his leadership, camp attendance reached over 3,000 campers each summer. How did this happen? Gary adopted a unique approach to assuring campers had a wonderful experience. He wanted them to have such a great time that they’d come back the next summer and bring their friends. What did he do?
Gary was fascinated by the attention given to customer service at Disneyland. We spent ten days in staff orientation before the start of summer camp. In orientation, Gary impressed upon the staff a Disneyland-like approach to serving the hundreds of children that would pass through the camp in the weeks ahead. He urged to welcome every camper as a guest. Gary asked us to shower each child with kindness, respect and personal attention. His goal was to assure each child's experience was so wonderful they’d tell all their friends about it when they got home.
That’s what happened!
And each summer we’d see many of the kids we saw the summer before bring their friends with them.
How the Church Grows
We’re called to offer this kind of experience in the way we do church—not only to our guests, but to each other. And not only on Sabbath morning, but in every aspect of church life.
A church family exists as a community where people can meet Jesus. The goal is that they are persuaded to choose Jesus as their Lord and Savior and follow Him.
How does this happen?
Ellen White, a co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist movement wrote, “A kind, courteous Christian is the most powerful argument that can be produced in favor of Christianity,” (Gospel Workers, p. 122).
Read that again!
When the church excels at loving people, the message it delivers to the world shines brighter. People who experience the love of Jesus will tell others about it.
That’s how Jesus’ church grows in character and in numbers.
Getting it Right
Despite my best intentions, I don’t always succeed in being kind and courteous.
Church isn’t like summer camp. At camp, campers come for a week and then they’re gone for 12 months.
In the church, we rub shoulders with each other week after week at sabbath school, worship, potlucks, board meetings, prayer meetings, and other activities.
Most sabbaths we also welcome guests to our gatherings. Some of our guests come back and become part of our church family. When they do, they add their unique personalities to the mix of church life.
We all come from diverse backgrounds. We have different personalities, perspectives and interests. When we rub shoulders frequently, sometimes our natural impulses rise up. The Bible calls it the "flesh" or "carnal nature." When the flesh rises up, kindness and courtesy get sidelined.
If a Disneyland cast member says or does something regrettable to you, you might get lucky. Disneyland will want another chance to get it right. Disneyland may give you a free pass to come back another day.
In Jesus' church, He calls us to confess, repent and make things right. No free passes.
When you and I fail to act like Jesus, it’s an opportunity. It's a reminder that we can't do life the right way without Jesus.
As humiliating as it feels to admit our faults and apologize, this is how we make room for more of Jesus and less of self. This is how we change direction.
We all need the Holy Spirit to continue to transform us into a community that can love more like Jesus.
The Better Way
While the way of the world is becoming more unkind and self-centered, Jesus offers a better way.
The solution that Jesus offers works wherever we have relationships—at home, in our neighborhood, at school, at work, and in a church family.
As Jesus put it, His way is to love God first and second to love our neighbor as ourself.
We can’t do one without the other. I've tried it. It doesn't work.
“And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:21, ESV)
What does this look like?
Jesus said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29 NKJV)
Turn any direction in today's world and you'll hear calls for equality and equity.
We all want fairness of opportunity and outcome. Usually, we want it for ourselves more than we want it for others. When this happens, appeals made for fairness among God's people don't turn out well (read Numbers 16, for example).
Jesus's approach to fairness was for each of us to offer it to others rather than insist on it for ourselves. Jesus chose to take the form of a servant and calls His people to choose to do the same.
Paul described the role of a Christ-like servant this way:
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4, ESV)
Kindness and courtesy.
It's easier when everyone is on the same page. In our own power, it's impossible when we find ourselves in conflict with each other.
At our best, we will yield and advocate for each other’s interests with the same passion we advocate for our personal interests.
This is the challenge the Holy Spirit empowers us to meet:
“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10, ESV)
By God’s grace, this is the kind of community our church family is becoming. We’re not there, yet. But I want to be a part of what the Holy Spirit is doing to make it happen.
What about you?
"Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own. It is the privilege of every Christian not only to look for but to hasten the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, (2 Peter 3:12, margin). Were all who profess His name bearing fruit to His glory, how quickly the whole world would be sown with the seed of the gospel. Quickly the last great harvest would be ripened, and Christ would come to gather the precious grain." Ellen White, Christ's Object Lessons, p. 69.