Invitations have been on my mind. Last week, I invited my neighbor and her children over to visit. As the saying goes, she ghosted me. That’s ok. I expected her to say one thing and do another; that has been her pattern since they moved in. She avoided eye contact when I saw her the next day. At least I tried. Sometimes the best that you can do—is the best that you can do. The same is true when sharing our faith.
Jesus offered an invitation to healing and wholeness rather than an “or else” threat. Sadly, the institutional church buries the good news of Jesus by scaring people with the bad news of hell and damnation. Practicing concussion theology (aka beating someone over the head with a Bible) is not the way to invite others to accept Christ.
I believe it’s important to meet people where they are. The institutional church has not always done that. Too often, we expect church members to dress nicely, follow a litany of rules, and hide their dark secrets. Then (and only then) will some churches accept people “into the fold.” Jesus didn’t tell the leper to clean up his wounds in order to be healed. He didn’t tell the woman at the well what a sinner she was for having several husbands, and He didn’t tell Peter he would be excommunicated from God’s Church for the rest of his life because he denied knowing Jesus. He invited everyone to go in a new direction.
My husband (Dan) and I received an invitation from a friend to attend a new mega-church. We debated since we don’t feel called to the institutional church right now. We prayed about it and decided if nothing else, the invitation might be a confirmation. I knew by the second round of greeters that we had made a mistake. By the third round of greeters, this severe introvert felt like I was entering the gates of hell. (Sorry, just being real here.)
The standard protocol for a mega-church includes loud music, a coffee bar, flashing lights, three worship songs, and perky announcers. Neat rows of chairs held colorful pamphlets selling an upcoming conference with photos of evangelical rock stars. At least four times, the perky announcer hopping up to the microphone encouraged. “Check out the tables in the back on how to get involved. You can find more information on our very own church Instagram account! Oh, and by the way, I think there is a table in the back with chocolate goodies.” (Ok, I admit, she almost had me at the chocolate.) During the second worship song, I turned to Dan. “What are you sensing? Are you getting anything?” Shaking his head and furrowing his concentrated brow, he yelled over the pounding drums. “I’m still trying!”
A few late-arriving college kids sat in front of us with fresh lattes, and three dudes scuttled past our seats wearing matching t-shirts and important person nametags dangling on lanyards. Grabbing the microphone, the perky college girl invited everyone to visit with “the new people” and check out the tables in the back.
Fortunately, during the third song of this vacuum church (aka mega church that sucks people out of the smaller churches), I had my answer. I closed my eyes. “Lord, what are we doing here?” God whispered in response. “I’m wondering the same thing.” I saw a vision of a shallow pool and instantly knew there was little water of the Spirit here. My husband and I slipped out the door as the latte-gripping crowd dashed for the chocolate table. Some invitations should be declined.
Sometimes, invitations to God’s healing and wholeness are turned down. Regardless, God hears our prayers for our neighbor, or family member, or coworker. We may not see the results of our prayers in this lifetime, but praying God’s invitation for them is never wasted.
Accepting the invitation to attend the mega-church wasn’t wasted either. It was a confirmation that we are not called to the institutional church right now. It was also an open invitation to continue in prayer for God’s direction on the path before us—whatever that may be.
(photo by Andrew Dunstan on Unsplash)