The Power of Greetings
“It’s the Vogelsangs!” With that announcement, the receptionist hurried to the back room of the Wawona Hotel and called out the rest of the staff to meet us. Well, this was an unexpected greeting!
We discovered that our last name was also the name of a nearby trailhead leading to Vogelsang Lake, Vogelsang High Sierra Camp, Vogelsang Pass and even Vogelsang Peak. Were we related to the famous Vogelsang for whom these Yosemite Park locations were named?
We hated to disappoint those eager faces, but no we weren’t. That didn’t spoil our welcome, however, and it was fun to be a part of the celebrity experience, however brief the moment.
The word “greet” includes the idea of welcoming, that it is a happy occasion to have someone arrive or be included. The bare minimum is to at least notice the presence of that person, but even better is to greet whoever arrives kindly, to be courteous, warm and friendly,
I can name offices where I’ve stood in front of the receptionist waiting to be acknowledged, waiting for my purpose for being there to move up the list of important tasks, waiting for his or her eyes to stop fixating on a computer screen. I also can recall store clerks who didn’t seem too impressed that I was bringing them my business. Instead, they chose to chat with another colleague or simply move my purchases down the counter without so much as catching my eye with a smile.
But I’d rather talk about the greetings at the door of stores and churches and offices where my concerns and questions were met with helpful information and even an offer to find someone who could take care of my requests. Or the busy receptionist who looked up from her phone call to give me a smile, a nod, and “I’ll be right with you.” I know you’ve been in those places too. You know when you’ve been greeted and even truly welcomed.
Every organization, company, or family has a recognizable culture. You can hear it, sense it, and see it. Someone has taken the lead, knowingly or not, for the attitude and atmosphere.
Even though we live on a modest budget, we have been fortunate to stay at many elegant hotels, courtesy of generous friends or gifts. Not long ago we had a two-night stopover at the Savoy in London. As our taxi pulled up to the front entrance, a tall gentleman opened my door with a tip of his top hat and a sweep of his gloved hand. Heads turned in our direction when we entered the lobby, as if they were expecting us, as if we were celebrities, assuming we were welcomed guests. And this behavior extended to all of the employees, every moment of our stay. Each time we moved into a new area or room, the staff looked up from their tasks, acknowledged our presence, turned our way with a smile when they walked by. It was truly an extraordinary experience, and I wonder to this day what or who was behind this welcoming culture.
The Apostle Paul was serious about greeting people. He strongly encouraged his followers to greet each other warmly and with love. He knew that was the way to build relationships and to build up the community of believers. He knew that was the only way the early church would prosper and grow.
And another leader, the perfect leader, our Lord Jesus, reminds us that no one is too lowly or insignificant to deserve our notice, our greeting: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me” (Matt. 18:5). How important it is to give our attention to those who don’t always feel the welcome or receive a greeting.
If we save our welcomes only for those we want to impress or gain from, then we miss out on the quiet colleague, the behind-the-scenes employee, manager, or maintenance worker that makes it all happen seamlessly, smoothly. Jesus reminded us to always extend our greetings, even to those as seemingly insignificant as a child.
When I consider the ways I’ve greeted others, I wonder if I’m guilty of not welcoming those I come in contact with often or daily… coworkers, employees, or even family members. Is there always a welcome acknowledgement of their presence when a spouse or child returns home? Or am I too consumed with my own tasks to take that few moments of greeting? Do I turn my attention, my face, my eyes and smile to them? And outside of my family circle, do I acknowledge those who are helping me or serving me by looking them in the eye, asking them how their day is going? And then actually listening to their response? It’s a small thing.
If I expect others to show a welcoming behavior, I need to not only model it but teach it intentionally. We taught our children from a very young age how to greet adults: Look them in the eye; shake a hand; speak loudly and clearly. Be respectful and keep the family name in good standing.
The same is true for any organization. Clear instructions for how someone is to be greeted and treated leave no room for misunderstood expectations. Without intentional guidance, the culture and good name of a company or organization will suffer.
“Watch your pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves” was a maxim I heard as a child. Our local radio announcer used it as his daily sign off. I took that literally as encouragement to save up my pennies in hopes they would add up to something great.
But now I’m thinking there might be more: “Take care of the small things… the details that are important… and the result will be an amazing return!”
It’s the small things that cover so much territory! Whether it is how we interact with our coworkers and family, the people who are serving us or doing a job for us, our customers or our bosses and managers… the small things do add up. Taking time to acknowledge the importance of someone’s presence, someone’s existence, creates a positive atmosphere, a welcoming culture.
My favorite boss in the Bible is Boaz. He was a hands-on CEO who paid attention to the details of his business, especially during the harvest season. He noticed the smallest details, including the presence of someone new in the fields. But what really set Boaz apart was the relationship he had with his workers. The respectful and supportive culture was evident from the exchange recorded in Ruth 2:4: Boaz greeted the harvesters, his hired hands, with, “The Lord be with you!” And their response? “The Lord bless you!” What a great work environment!
As wonderful as the Savoy was, I know I have an even finer greeting in my future: “And you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:11). I know this is true because I have the promise from Jesus himself that He’s got a room ready for me (John 14:2). Even the smallest details have been taken care of. My name is already in the registration Book of Life. All heads will turn to welcome me. “We were expecting you” is the greeting I will hear.
No, I didn’t pay for this room either. It was a gift, one I wasn’t worthy of, but my Lord Jesus gave it to me anyway. And on top of it, He took care of my bags for me, my baggage of sin. Thank goodness I won’t find them waiting for me in my room! Instead, all I will ever need will be provided for me, down to the smallest detail.
Leaving my guilt at the cross,
(First published on the Lead Like Jesus website in November 2016)