Review: “Welcome” by Jen Oshman
I love the format of this book. Although it is short, Jen Oshman has packed it with nuggets of biblical wisdom. Each chapter has brief real-life stories to bring the topics to life. Jen then roots the principles of what she is saying in biblical passages. The end of each chapter lists a set of “Action steps”, based on the teaching from the chapter. And the book ends with a 7-session discussion guide for small groups, each session being based on one of the chapters as well as a relevant Bible passage. The message is clear - Jen wants us not just to read this material, but to apply it to our churches and to bring about substantial culture change.
There is a logical progression through the book, which has the subtitle "Loving your church by making space for everyone". Starting with Jesus’ welcome to us, Jen encourages us to respond in welcome to others. This was the model of the early church, and we need to recapture their radical inclusion of all people. We also need to recognise that many outsiders have a negative view of the church, so we should continually adopt an outsider’s perspective, to ensure that our gatherings are experienced as hospitals for the many rather than exclusive groups for the few.
Chapter 4 will resonate with many TFT members, as it refers to Jesus’ words in Mark 10:29-30 when He said that believers who have given up relationships to follow Him will receive a hundred times as many mothers, sisters and brothers amongst our fellow believers. Jen encourages us to have depth in our interactions with others at church and to make church family our priority.
The remainder of the book continues with its challenging themes. We are called to take our welcome beyond the doors of our churches and to all see ourselves as missionaries. There are also some very practical tips on how to make Sunday services seeker-friendly, but never dumbing down Bible truth. Her advice is always about helping people to feel loved, welcomed and included, rather than compromising the gospel in any way. She concludes the book with a final call to action, reminding us that the church is God’s “Plan A” for his world - there is no “Plan B”!
While Jen Oshman is married with 4 daughters, and there is no explicit mention in the book of those who are same-sex attracted, there is much in this book to encourage TFT members. She explains how her family experienced being outsiders when they lived in Japan for 10 years, and she relentlessly reminds us what it must be like to be a newcomer attending one of our meetings. Although the book is very upbeat, it is clearly a condemnation of introspective, shallow and cliquey churches. If you are hungry for your church to go deeper in its fellowship and become more radical in its outreach, without watering down its message, then this book will thrill your soul.
The great challenge will be how to achieve that change in posture. This will take time, and it will need a critical mass of core people to get on board with it. This book could be a catalyst for that change. Being short and very practical, the discussion guide at the end would be ideal as a short small group series of studies. If you can encourage your church leaders to read the book and consider working through the material in groups, that would be a great step towards becoming a radically inclusive, but biblical church.
My only real criticism of this book is that at £9.99 it seems quite expensive for a short read, especially one that you are probably going to want to buy multiple copies of to hand out to fellow Christians. I hope that the Good Book Company offers some generous multi-buy deals in due course. It is part of their “Love your church” series, which also contains books on belonging and on how we meet together.
Overall, I highly recommend this book. Jen Oshman recognises that some of her ideas come from Rosaria Butterfield’s “The Gospel comes with a House Key”, but “Welcome” is in my opinion an easier read and presented in a format that is designed to inspire positive change.
This article was originally published in the Summer 2023 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.
Download the Summer 2023 edition of Ascend