What Invitation Looks Like
Back in the 1980s some leaders within the newer church streams would use the phrase: “Walk with us and we will do you good”. Such an invitation suggests a refocussing from ‘believing the right things in order to be saved’ to ‘travelling with others on a journey of growth’.
As a leader of a Baptist church with rather different traditions and expectations, I recall being inspired by this idea whilst being aware I was not free to scrap everything and start again. So I began to look around me and observe carefully.
It was the tradition in our church for the minister and a leader to visit anyone who wanted to become a church member, and to report back to the next meeting of church members. A vote would be taken as to whether to accept the applicants as members. The whole process was always conducted in a friendly and fairly non-threatening way, and the church meeting always voted to accept and welcome newcomers. But I had some concerns.
All of us have a longing to be accepted. And very few of us will take the unwise step of telling complete strangers things about ourselves which we fear will lead to negative judgement. So my questions were whether this practice leading to church membership achieved anything of value, and whether it may be doing more harm than good. We seemed to be encouraging people to tell us that their lives were hunky dory in order to be accepted, which could never be the whole story.
Contrast this with a meeting of any of the ‘Anonymous’ groups where addicts receive acceptance, strength, comradeship and life saving assistance. “Hello, my name is XXXX, and I am an addict.” Honesty in a setting like this would bring a degree of acceptance that can be trusted because a mutual truth has been told and a fear (that rejection will follow) has been disarmed.
I am certainly not suggesting that churches should become ‘Anonymous’ groups! but, central to Christian theology is an understanding that something in the human condition needs reform. Churches where bland ‘niceness’ is the norm are churches where unreality reigns. And such environments do not help people flourish.
I therefore conclude that a certain level of vulnerability is necessary within a healthy community. Which will be the topic of the next post in the series.