+Bishop Jon V. Anderson
This is a great time of year to engage in the faith practice of inviting. In fact, every time of year is a great time to invite people to bring their questions, life experiences, and explore more deeply a relationship with the community of Jesus.
Jeff invited me. When I was at college, I lost touch with attending worship because my college’s chapel was so different from my simple, rural community of faith. My life was disoriented in many ways at the time. I will always be thankful that as I got to know my head resident, one night he asked me to join him at an informal Wednesday night service late in the evening at the chapel. The conversations we had were also important. Jeff helped me find a worshiping community that would be my home for the next four years. It started with a simple question. “I appreciate the Wednesday evening service at chapel. It is informal. Would you like to come with me? We can walk over together.” I think he invited me three times before I joined him.
There are many ways to Invite people deeper into the community of Jesus. I will lift up four doors you might invite people through.
One door is fellowship. In my first call congregation I participated in an eccentric group of congregational fellowship events that were fun and intended to be open doorways to invite people who were new to the area or who had lost touch with their church home to participate. The Young Adults and Singles Group had brunch together monthly. People would informally invite people over for dinner to join with other friends from the congregation or to join their Gourmet Small Group. Relationships were born and invitations sometimes led to the community of Jesus and sometimes to deeper friendships. Even a pot luck after worship is a great place for people to grow deeper in relationships. Inviting people to eat together or have fun is one way to invite people into the community that calls Jesus Lord.
Another door is worship experiences. Inviting people to worship has been an effective way to experience the gift of being a part of the community of faith. As we enter Advent, there will be special events like children’s Christmas programs, holiday concerts, concerts, Blue Christmas services (for those who are blue about something this time of year) and candlelight Christmas services. It is a time when our culture is more open to expressions of faith. Inviting people to join you in remembering the story of God’s surprising way of redeeming us can be a gift you share. Of course regular worship is also a time where through word and sacraments we are reminded that God is for us and walking with us.
Another door is service together. Many people find inviting people to join them in serving is the best doorway for young adults. This service for the sake of people in the area or for people far away gives people a chance to experience community and also to love their neighbors in multiple ways. We often think of inviting people outside of a relationship with a community of faith. There are always people inside the community of faith who are open to an invitation to go deeper. They are thankful to be remembered and invited to help. Their spirituality may be one that sings praises to God best with their hands as they care for others. Service experiences become times God invites them to grow deeper in faith, hope and love.
The door of study is another way people are invited to grow deeper in faith, hope and love. For some it might be an invitation to do Advent devotions, or to read/listen through the coming year’s Gospel (Luke) or to join a Bible Study or small groups. One wise man I learned from argued that when people know little learning experiences that are more lecture-oriented feel safer. Inviting people to grow deeper in retreats, small groups, or Bible studies all can give people a chance to learn more, integrate and practice their faith. Some like to learn together and some like to learn alone in reading books or listening to podcasts. God invites us all to find ways to learn to feed us for our spiritual journeys through life. How do you best love to study? Is it through reading, lectures, videos, action/reflection? Remember that the door of studying is wider than a Bible study. Jesus taught with what he did and also with parables that drew people in and still do.
We have an inviting God and an inviting Lord Jesus. God invites us through God’s Spirit to grow deeper in our relationship to God and the community that bears Christ’s name. When you are inviting it is as simple Luther said, “as one beggar telling another where to find bread.” We all need to be evangelized again and again as we dance or slog through life. We need to hear the good news that God is for us, with us and inviting us deeper in faith, hope and love.