As my friends and family know, I’m clearly an introvert. Growing up, I struggled with shyness, and even today I’m still more at ease among books than I am among people. Upon reflection, I suspect I even battle a certain amount of social anxiety. Nevertheless, as a public speaker and teacher I’ve learned how to be at ease even when addressing and interacting with large audiences. Yet engaging in small talk with strangers remains a challenge.
I’ve attended many church services in my time where the pastor would tell the congregation to turn and say hello to the people sitting around them. As a quiet, reflective soul who anticipates the opportunity to recite the Nicene Creed (my favorite part of liturgical worship), I’ve always dreaded this rather coerced church-based social interaction. I complied because I felt it was the spiritual thing to do, but it was always reluctantly. Again, I felt like an introvert in an extrovert’s church.
So for many years I was purposely a member of a church that did not engage in this practice. This might sound bad to some Christians, but I liked the fact that I didn’t have to interact with people during the church service—especially with those I hardly knew. As an introvert I felt safe and could more comfortably spend time meditating upon the Triune God.
A Change of Heart
A few months ago my wife and I began attending a new church that is closer to where we live. On our first visit, being the new people, I felt characteristically awkward. Sure enough, just as the service began the pastor encouraged the congregation to greet one another, but to my surprise I enjoyed the interaction. Many people in the church greeted my wife and me with the warm and tender expression: “The Lord’s peace be with you.” I still felt a bit awkward, but there was something different this time.
My wife and I had recently experienced a loss in our family and were still hurting with grief. While the people didn’t know of our loss, both my wife and I sensed their sincerity and the great reassurance that their spiritual greeting gave. There is nothing in life like the peace of the Lord, especially when you are going through a tough time.
Our new church allows several minutes for people in the congregation to walk around the sanctuary and greet one another each Sunday morning. As a classic introvert I’m not sure I’ll ever be completely comfortable with this practice, but it has caused a real change of heart in me.
As people living in this world, we face many troubles and trials; therefore, receiving a sincere greeting of peace from a brother or sister in Christ on the Lord’s day can enliven the soul. In fact, I’m now convinced that a church’s personal warmth carries much power for persuasion. People, and maybe especially non-Christians, want to find a place where they are genuinely welcomed. Agape love can thus play a unique part in apologetics, and when combined with reason, it can powerfully testify to the truth of historic Christianity.
So it is not surprising that the apostle Paul ends his greatest New Testament epistle with the words, “Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings” (Romans 16:16).