Part 2: Invitation Required
Have you ever been invited to one of those super posh parties where you have to show your invitation at the door to get in? Yeah, me neither, but they always seemed cool in the movies. So the idea is, the host sends out a ton of invitations to potential guests, and then it’s up to those folks whether they actually want to come or not. But regardless, they must be invited first.
What’s in an invitation?
A promise of presence.
An open door.
I wonder…are we as leaders sending out enough invitations?
I recently had a conversation with a friend from Bible college who told me that in the six years he was youth pastor, he was never once invited to his pastor’s house for dinner. Now, I know what you’re thinking—this guy must have a staff of 14! I thought the same thing at first, but unfortunately that’s not the case. In those six years, this youth pastor was the only other person on staff, and the only person in the building with the pastor most days. And in all that time, he had never once received an invitation to his leader’s home. What is an invitation?
A promise of presence.
An open door.
A validation of his personhood.
Now, you may say, “That’s unfair! If he wanted to come over, why didn’t he just say so?” Because, you see, a person must be invited first. It is a cultural standard that we don’t insert ourselves into people’s personal space, that it is rude to shove our way in. You have those rare people who never got that memo and who are just fine inviting themselves over (like my hopeless extrovert of a husband who claims to have “the gift of receiving”), but most people will not step over that line. Even when it comes to our foxhole buddies—those people of peace who are serving faithfully alongside us in mission—we need to issue invitations in order for them to really engage in our lives. I guarantee you, they are waiting for them.
As a leader, I’ve learned to issue lots of invitations. Whether it’s someone serving in leadership with our church, an intern or another young person across the country who wants to connect, or a homeless lady who just approached me at a coffee shop, I have the opportunity to let that person into my life or not. What’s more, I can decide the level of involvement; I get to establish the boundaries. Then I let go and let them decide where they want to belong. It’s just an invitation. It is not my responsibility whether they take me up on it, but it is my responsibility to issue the invitation as clearly and lovingly as possible.
And you see, this is the model that Jesus gave us. He invited people in at whatever level they wanted to belong, and let them choose where they fit. Certainly he didn’t allow everyone to be one of the 12 disciples, but outside of that he sort of opened it up to whoever wanted to be near Him. Some chose to, others didn’t. We never see Jesus chasing down those who refused, trying to make the calling more palatable or convenient, but we do see Him inviting people often, opening the door to ordinary people to follow Him, be with Him, even live alongside Him.
I know what you’re thinking—that must take a lot of time. Yep. But even scarier, it takes a great deal of vulnerability. What if I invite someone to Ojala Grill Night and my house isn’t perfectly clean? What if they come along to a family event and my kids have a meltdown, or my husband and I have a scuffle? What if I teach my preparation process for preaching, and my research and study isn’t impressive enough?
Ah, Vulnerability. It is one of our greatest barriers to issuing those fantastic people in our lives real invitation. And it’s a serious enough deal that we’ll take more time to discuss it in the next blog. But for now, take it from me—someone who disillusions people often and early—they won’t die if they see a little real life. It might even be helpful for their own journey.
So let’s send out a few more invitations, because almost certainly they won’t come without one. And if we invite clearly and lovingly and let ourselves off the hook about who chooses to respond, we may just be surprised at who shows up.