Monday, March 02, 2009

Evangelism and Invitation

Here’s my newsfeed article for the week:

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)

Jesus invited. He called out to people and asked them to follow him. He went to people in their “natural habitat” and asked them to enter into a new life, a life in relationship with God. Jesus did not wait for people to discover him, he went directly to people and extended the invitation personally.

There is a beautiful worship song called The Summons that asks, “Will you come and follow me if I but call your name? Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same? Will you let my love be shown, will you let my name be known, will let my life be grown in you and you in me?”

Have you ever asked yourself how you would respond to Jesus if this very minute he walked into the room where you are and invited you to follow him? Would you go? Would you politely offer him a Dr. Pepper and try to make small talk? Would you phone 911 and announce an intruder in your

Take your self-examination a step further: How are you allowing the invitational attitude of Jesus shape your own discipleship? When is the last time you
invited someone to attend worship with you? How long has it been since you talked about your faith with a friend in a casual conversation? When is the last time you shared the love of Christ with a stranger?

Invitation is a multi-layered concept. We are invited by Christ to follow, and following Christ includes inviting others, as well. Invitation is one of the facets of discipleship, and one that we need continual encouragement to undertake. To be like Jesus, we ought not simply wait for people to come, but go out into the “natural habitat” and invite people in.

Inviting people to church is different from inviting people to God. Ultimately, it is the latter emphasis that is our priority. Inviting people to church is simply a means by which we invite them to God. However, it is much easier for us to invite people to church than to invite them to God. And anyway, if we will invite them to church, maybe we could trust God to do the rest!

Jesus invited – And so should we.

Btw, it is also posted here.

The more I think about invitation, the more perplexed I become. Here’s my question:

When did we decide to substitute “invitation” for “evangelism”?

These words are not synonyms, and yet many of us treat them as though they were. Inviting someone to church is only one way to do evangelism. Synonymizing (I made that word up) these two words gets us into trouble, and leads us to believe that we’re bad at evangelism, a self-deprecating belief that only feeds into the downward trend many congregations, conferences, and denominations are feeling these days.

The truth is, we are very, very good at evangelism, and we don’t even know it. The problem is that we don’t recognize the things we do as evangelism, because we operate under the false assumption that getting someone to come to church with you is the only way to evangelize. Well, getting someone to church is not the goal of evangelism – getting someone to God is!

Most definitions of evangelism include proclamation of the Gospel, and many mention that this is done with zeal, a word that we do not use often enough in everyday conversation, I believe. So, anytime you energetically share the Gospel you are doing evangelism. That could be offering forgiveness to someone who has hurt you, giving grace to someone in need, loving someone without condition, or providing hope in a situation that is otherwise hopeless. It could also be inviting someone to church.

No church should have an “Evangelism Team,” because every single member of the community should be doing evangelism. There might be a “Publicity Team” whose job is to get the word out about church events. There might be a “Hospitality Team” whose job is to welcome guests and visitors when they arrive. But every single aspect of what a congregation does should be evangelism – sharing the Gospel.

When the ministry of evangelism is relegated to one team, it too quickly becomes all and only about invitation. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with invitation, of course, but as I said earlier, that’s only one part of evangelism. And then, with an “evangelism team,” now operating functionally as an “inviting team,” it is all too easy for church members to shirk the responsibility of evangelism, reasoning that it is “someone else’s job.”

I wrote in the newsfeed article above that “invitation is one of the facets of discipleship.” Discipleship is inherently about evangelism; it would be very hard to think of one without the other. But invitation is only one piece of the whole. It may be a piece that the church is generally pretty bad at, but I cannot go from there all the way to saying that we’re bad at evangelism altogether.

We’re not. We’re good at grace. We’re good at love. We’re good at inclusiveness. We’re good at Christian friendship. (We could be better, I know. I said good, not perfect.) The point being, if we can affirm the good evangelism going on through our congregations, we may feel a bit better about ourselves. Then that spirit will bubble up and out from within the congregation and be inherently attractive to many, many people.

And here’s a random thought that doesn’t quite fit in above -
An attitude of invitation would assume that people will love it, and therefore inviting people to it would be no big deal. It would just happen. But invitation is like the squiggly line in your eye fluid, you can see it but once you focus on it – it drifts away. I think we need to stress out less about invitation and really strive to create churches that people simply cannot stay away from.


Pleonic said...

To me evangelism is something your whole life does, with and without words. It's living a life that says that it's possible to move from the 'domain of darkness' into the 'kingdom of light,' and you happen to know how it's done.

An invitation is an optional thing that you may or may not need to do at the end of evangelism -- saying to a person that your life has made curious, "How about coming on over?" But if the kingdom looks inviting enough, a literal invitation may be superfluous.

Donna said...

This is great stuff, Andy. You are absolutely right--we don't often realize that things we're doing are evangelism. Sharing the good news takes many forms. When are you going to write a book, Rev.?

Anonymous said...

What squiggly line in the eye fluid? cb