At Belong, our mission is simple:
To invite God's Kingdom by building an intentionally diverse, justice-loving community.
Over the next few weeks, I'll take some time to say more about our mission and how we will live this out in the world.
First, let's talk about what it means to be invited.
My oldest is the age where birthday party invitations come home fairly often. Yet, from time to time he tells me that someone handed out invitations that day, but he didn't get one. I feel sympathy for the parents of that child, because Lord knows birthday parties are expensive! Nonetheless, I recognize the pained look on my son's face when he feels that he has somehow fallen short of earning an invitation.
We might be tempted to dismiss this as childish thinking, but if we're honest, we feel like this too, from time to time. The desire to feel safe in a community is one of our strongest biological urges. The first thing the bible declares to be "not good" is for a person to be alone. We are made to engage in community, yet that can only occur when we are invited. We long to know that someone has thought of us, made room for us, and desires our presence.
Our mission is to "invite God's Kingdom." We do this primarily by inviting the people of the Kingdom. In other words, we help build the Kingdom by bringing together the folks who are committed to being God's people. So, the question might become, who is invited?
As with all things, we take our cues from Jesus. In this instance, we must ask, who did Jesus invite? In some ways, it was all the wrong people. Under the general category of "sinner," we see that Jesus engaged in relationship with women (even those whose very presence might bring criticism to Jesus and his disciples), with tax collectors, with those deemed unclean. In other words, he invited all of the people that were the outcasts of the day.
Rather than talk about who was invited, it might be easier to talk about who isn't. In practical terms, Jesus held his most harsh criticism for many of the religious leaders of the day. Yet, much of this criticism is abstracted from individuals and is really a critique of group attitudes. On an individual basis, Jesus built relationships with religious leaders like Nicodemus, and he was even buried in the tomb of another leader. So, who would Jesus reject? Exclude? Ignore? I have to believe the answer to this question is: no one. Jesus would invite everyone. In fact, he did. The invitation to the Kingdom is issued to everyone, everywhere. Period. There is no one who is excluded from this invitation to relationship, wholeness, and peace. Part of our identity as Christians is to be those who bear the invitation on behalf of the risen Christ.
So, why does the church fall short on this measure? Why is it so hard to invite people? I have a few ideas. Most of the Christians I know don't want to be too pushy. We don't want to seem presumptuous or judgy by inviting someone to be in community with us and with Christ. We fear the "E" word (evangelism) because so many of us have been invited to church as a means of "fixing" us.
Well, for what it's worth, let me tell you: You're not invited because you're uniquely broken- you're invited because this world is broken, and God is equipping us to help put things back together. You're invited because Christ's work of redemption and reconciliation is still happening, even now.
This all sounds great, but then there comes the actual inviting piece, which, for many, is hard- I know. Here's what I can tell you on that front. First off, at Belong, we try to make it easy to invite others. Add folks to Facebook events, or perhaps forward an email. When we are worshipping regularly, we'll also have several Sundays per year that are intentionally designed to be a place you can invite friends along. Second, I can't tell you how many folks I invite to a church meal, small group, or worship service have never been invited. I've had many people tell me so directly. Some of them come, some of them don't, but everyone I've ever invited has been gracious and appreciative of me taking the time to ask. Finally, there's always the strategy of simply being such an awesome, kind, welcoming presence that anyone around you wants to figure out where you hang out and then tag along. I think the best bet is a combination of all three.
[I would be remiss if I didn't offer up an invitation to our next worship preview, this Sunday, October 16th, at 5pm. Details Here.]