One of our District Superintendents led a devotional with the Cabinet by recalling a period in his life when he enjoyed a significant engagement with Quakers, the Society of Friends. He shared questions that Friends reflect upon as part of their covenant with each other and with God. The questions, rich with perception, depth, and direction, addressed the attitudes they bring to worship, how they respect and regard others, the ethics of their daily work in the world, and their bearing witness to God. Among the questions were, “Do you, as the way opens, share Friends’ principles with non-Friends? Do you witness to your faith by letting your life speak?”
“As the way opens….” I love the gentleness, simplicity, and persistence of that question. Do you, as the way opens, share Christ with people who do not know Christ? Do you let your life speak in a manner that bears witness to your faith and service in Christ?
All of us encounter many types of persons with diverse attitudes toward spirituality, the practice of faith, religion, and the church. Sixty percent or more of the people we work with, shop among, live around, or whom we are related to, do not have any church relationship or active faith in Christ.
What do they see in the life we live that would attract them or invite them or otherwise make them want to live the faith we hold?
If every person in your congregation – pastor, staff, leader, member, teacher, volunteer – offered the same quality and effectiveness of invitation and witness as you regularly offer, would your church be growing or declining?
Among those who have no church connection are those who have never been involved in church in any way. Their perceptions of church are formed by media and entertainment depictions. And then there are those who attended church as children, but who have not had any significant adult experience with the Christian faith. There are those without a church connection who are nevertheless friendly, respectful, or curious about spirituality in general, or even about the church in particular. And then there are those without any church connection who are openly hostile, angry, resentful, and suspicious about religion, finding church people to be hypocritical and hurtful. Church people and religion really irritate them and offend them.
Many people without any involvement in a community of faith consider themselves to be spiritual but not religious. They believe in higher things and deeper truths, maybe even in God. They intuitively value the interior life, are searching for connection with others and a sense of purpose for their lives, and they desire to make a positive contribution by helping others or by leaving the world a better place. They also may hold firmly established but inaccurate preconceptions about churches and church people. According to most surveys, even most people who have no church connection demonstrate a surprising interest in knowing more about God and a deep curiosity about spiritual truths.
How do we demonstrate an open and invitational posture as part of our daily ministry as laypersons and pastors? Even people who are not particularly open to church are nevertheless open to their friends, and to the experiences that their friends value. The most concrete and personal way God reaches out to invite people into faith is through friends who invite friends. An invitation to a concert, a service project or mission trip, a special teaching experience—these simple friendly invitations open the pathways for people to take small steps toward the interior life, the life of service, and the community of faith.
There is not a one-size-fits-all way of inviting others. Personally, I sometimes have ten or fifteen conversations over several months with a person before the topic of church or faith ever arises. The weather, sports, news stories, music, schools, work, life’s daily annoyances, family, parenting….many times we’ve covered a great many other topics before anything about church or faith seems appropriate. In the spirit of the Quakers’ question, I pray that I notice the moment when “As the way opens….” happens. At that moment, talk of faith or an invitation to a particular church ministry is no longer awkward or difficult. It feels natural. The pathway has been prepared.
Paul described all of us as “ambassadors for Christ” and talks about “God making his appeal through us.” People are searching for purpose, connection, meaning, and opportunities to make a difference in the world. They are more ready than we sometimes realize. They already have a keep curiosity about the spiritual life. They are attracted to and respect people who are authentic, genuine, committed, and who live a good life marked by contribution and service. Most people who have no church relationship have at least one friend who practices the faith and actively seeks to follow Christ. That ambassador is the person God through whom God is offering his appeal. That person provides the most likely pathway in their lives to Christ.
Are you that person?
Do you, as the way opens, share the invitation of Christ?
Yours in Christ,