I’ve noticed an interesting cultural shift in America that has taken place in just the last decade or so. It’s a simple thing, really. It involves what has always been a very natural exchange that two people have when one thanks the other. In fact, most parents consider this a key area of training when it comes to teaching their little ones how to respond to kindness. Soon after teaching them the P-word, some would even call it the magic word…“please”, we teach them to say thank-you and you’re welcome. But it is this last phrase, you’re welcome, that has increasingly fallen on hard times, if not completely been kicked to the curb for its more modern counterpart. And what’s that, you say? No problem.
Whether it’s at the drive-through window or a five star restaurant, dropping off your clothes at the cleaners or picking up your brand new Lexus, the simple phrase thank you is, more and more, being acknowledged by No problem! At first, I didn’t even notice it, but the more its usage increased, the more I began to wonder how it came to replace you’re welcome.
The welcome in you're welcome is a statement saying: “I would do this for you again, if asked." (as in, “You're welcome to ask me again.”) Now, this may or not be a true statement. If someone thanks you for donating a kidney, for instance, and you casually say you’re welcome, I do not believe that anyone would think you would happily donate the other kidney. But the response you’re welcome is much more akin to its usual substitute “it’s my pleasure” than the currently popular “no problem.” My initial response to someone saying no problem (admittedly under the breath) was “Really? I didn’t think it was a problem…you getting me my cheeseburger or fetching my suit which I paid you to dry clean. Are you suggesting that under normal conditions that would be a problem?”
You might be thinking, seriously, what’s the big deal? At least the person is trying to be polite and responding to you in a positive manner. That is true, but that is not my point. Think about it this way. When someone greets you for the first time, or for the 100th time, really, would you rather hear them say, “You are welcome here” or “Your being here is no problem.” We even sang it in a worship song last week, addressing the living God, no less. The song was entitled (note this) Here for You and included the lines “We welcome You with praise”, and “be welcomed in this place.” I doubt a song with the lyrics “You’re no problem, God” would have gained as much traction in the contemporary Christian music industry.
What may be at the heart of this is an increasing focus on self in our culture, a society of me-ism (sometimes to the point of narcissism) which has, as its starting point, what’s in it for me. If it’s all about me, then the way I show you I am doing you a favor is to say no problem. But if you (the other person) are the focus, than saying you’re welcome can affirm your willingness, even eagerness, to serve that person.
As the musicians at our church begin our preparations for a Christmas event, our thoughts often turn to outsiders…those outside our ministry, our church, perhaps even outside the faith. It is at these very times when I try to challenge those inside the circle to be welcoming of those outside the circle. I don’t think a no problem attitude will quite cut it. For openers, it states a positive with a negative.
I try to remind my veterans to think back for a moment to the last time they joined a group for the first time: What were their hopes at that first meeting? Any fears? What made that experience such that they wanted to return? Or what, perhaps, happened that kept them from going back? Recently, some of our newer members voiced apprehension at first, wondering “am I in someone else’s seat” (officially or unofficially), “do I bring my music home?”, “what line should I be reading in the music?”, “where are the bathrooms?” (OK, I made that one up.) More than anything, they want to know that they are OK…and that we’re glad they’re here…not just that they’re not a problem.
As worship leaders, let me encourage you. Opening our doors to new folks is, indeed, part of our mission! This is also part of our worship! As we welcome them, we welcome Jesus into our midst! (Whatsoever you have done to the least of these brothers and sisters, You have done to Me, Jesus says).
So treasure your choir buddies, but don’t forget to make new ones. Community is in; cliques are out. I appeal to you! Be on the lookout for unfamiliar faces, and take a risk by initiating a conversation. Try talking to some folks you are not that familiar with, perhaps whose name you might not even know. Don’t forget what it took for you to brave joining a new group for the very first time. I believe how we handle the little things of creating a safe and welcoming place qualifies us to be entrusted with the much larger task of leading Christ’s body in worship. If I witness that over the next several months, I will be the first to say thank you. And I better not hear…no problem!