After my last update, I asked for questions, and I got several. Here’s one from Chelsea.
In regards to the meeting, do you just invite anyone who God leads you to talk to?
God leads us to connect with many un-churched and has opened doorways to help specifically meet their needs, but how would you encourage us to actually invite them to a meeting? On top of that, do you think they would even have any interest in reading a designated portion of the bible to discuss? With this said, even inviting the ones we know for dinner, would weird them out and it wouldn’t be a motivator for them to come…even if it was Just for dinner. So, do you have any advice or encouragement regarding that?
Right off let me say that I love how you guys are actively engaging the neighbors and friends that God has put in your life. That’s exactly what Jesus asks us to do. To love and give and serve the people who are in our life’s path. So often, we complicate the mission of Jesus by thinking that it involves large crusades, special techniques, well-crafted presentations, and a good “set-up” so we can “give the Gospel.” This is where I want to challenge each of us as followers of Jesus. It’s a lot simpler, and a lot more real than that.
For Restoration Church, we’re learning to live out the phrase, “Don’t invite someone ‘to church.’ Invite them to dinner.” Let’s try to parse out what this does and does not mean.
First, while most Christ-followers would readily agree that the “church is the people who follow Jesus,” almost universally, we refer to “going to church” as if it’s a place or a meeting. We are all guilty of referencing a building with a steeple on it as a church. But is it really? Isn’t it simply a building where a church meets? If that’s the case, then logic would dictate that you can’t invite someone “to a group of people” but you can invite them to where the church is at any given moment. This is where things get pretty exciting. The church is anywhere you are. Oh. Yeah.
The Great Commandment says to love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength, and the second part is to “love your neighbor” as yourself. I can’t imagine that Jesus meant that just in a general sense so that we go around feeling a sense of goodwill toward everyone. I think he was spelling it out as the mission of God’s people from the beginning for us to really love people as we encounter them. Romans 12 in the “yellow book” (That’s what we call our Bibles that are the New Living Translation. This site makes it make sense.) says, “Don’t pretend to love people. Really love them.” That’s awesome. My question then becomes, “How can we really love someone that we don’t even know?” Why don’t I know the people I work with? Why don’t I know my neighbors two houses down? I think the answer is because I’m too wrapped up in my own life, including “doing the church thing” that I deprive myself of the opportunity to really know and love my neighbors. (By the way, this includes the neighbors we don’t like. See the story Jesus told about the neighborly Samaritan.) Really getting to know the people in your life takes time, effort, and it isn’t always pretty or fun. However, it IS fulfilling, once you realize how integrally it’s tied into the Kingdom of God.
That’s where the “invite them to dinner” part of our saying comes in. That doesn’t mean that inviting your neighbors and co-workers to dinner is the only way to love them. However, having someone into your home and sharing a meal together is a beautiful way to show love because it is one of the most vulnerable things you can do as a family. You open up your “domain” to others and allow them to enjoy what you typically claim as your own. Don’t get too focused on just inviting someone for a meal though. You can live this out a million ways. See what your neighbors and co-workers like to do, and intentionally engage with them there. Spend time with them and just accept them as they are.
Let me be clear about something. The goal of the meal is to have a meal, and to know someone better. It’s not to somehow get them to “give you an opening” to share the Gospel or “invite them TO church.” Nope. This isn’t a bait and switch. I had a friend of mine help make this point clear. Sean’s the pastor of Grace Church in Stoughton, Mass. They’re doing awesome things spreading the Gospel over there. He told me once, “Ask yourself the question: Am I willing to love this person and get involved in their life even if I knew they would NEVER accept Jesus?” Of course, we don’t know that about anyone, but the question is still valid. Are you willing to love someone to simply love someone? That’s what Jesus did.
Probably by now, you’re scratching your head, and wondering how this accomplishes Christ’s mission. Here’s how. As you love people, and pray for these neighbors, and serve these neighbors, God is at work in their lives. He honors those who live out His commands, and He wants your neighbor to accept Jesus more badly than you do! God will do the work in their lives, and He will give you opportunity to “give an answer of the hope that is inside of you.” Without prodding or pushing, your neighbors may give you the opportunity to talk about what motivates and drives you. Chances are those conversations will come up in small bits over time. As God works in their heart, they may even come to where they believe in Jesus Christ for their own salvation.
Am I saying that you shouldn’t talk about your faith to others? Not at all. God will give you plenty of opportunities to do that as you live out this mission.
But what about inviting someone to a church meeting? Where does that come in? It comes in when your friends bring it up. Let God drive the train, not you. You’ll be amazed at how much less pressure you feel as you live out this mission. God calls you to love. He’s the one that does the drawing. The goal is not to get people to go to a meeting. It’s to help people become disciples of Jesus. That can be hard to quantify and measure, and that’s probably why as followers of Jesus we’re always so concerned with getting someone “to church” to hear the Gospel. It lets us know that we’re doing good. We’re succeeding. I think it may be a false sense of success, though. Maybe I’ll elaborate on that more some other time.
To get back to your question, specifically, Chelsea, I don’t think that holding Bible studies for your neighbors is what we’re necessarily talking about here. Sure, if a neighbor wants to learn about the Bible, go for it. But don’t make that your strategy. Just keep loving those around you, and be patient as God works.
I hope some of these thoughts are helpful. I’m always open for lively discussion on these topics, and I’d like to think that I can be teachable.
Or, even better, I’d love to hear stories of how you guys have invited someone to dinner instead of “to church.”