“Then [the king] said to his slaves, ‘… Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’” (Matthew 22:8-9).
When I worked in a clergy-training program at a hospital, I was called to the emergency room to support an older man whose wife had been brought to the hospital by ambulance. Shortly after I arrived in the small consultation room with the husband, a doctor approached him to announce that his wife had died. The doctor handed me an envelope that contained her wedding ring and eyeglasses to give to him. Needless to say, the man was stunned with grief. After a few minutes together, I offered to call his pastor. He did not have a pastor because they attended no church. I asked about any family members, and he told me his family was scattered across the country. I helped him with the paper work, offered a prayer, handed him the envelope that contained the ring and glasses, escorted him to the exit, and watched him walk away alone to cope with the shocking news of his wife’s death all on his own.
Life is not meant to be that way. God intends for people to live their lives interlaced by the grace of God with others, to know the gift and task of community from birth to death, to have faith to sustain them through times of joy and periods of desperate agony. Yet in most communities, forty to sixty percent of people have no church relationship. Many of our neighbors do not know a pastor to call when they face an unexpected grief. Most of our coworkers do not know the sustaining grace that a church offers.
Practicing hospitality is not inviting people to join a club in order to enhance revenue through dues. We invite people into that mysteriously sustaining community that finds its purpose in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Have you ever invited someone who is not a part of a congregation to a service, ministry, or activity of your church? If so, how did it feel? If not, what has restrained you?
Give me the courage, Lord, to offer your invitation and welcome. Give me the spirit, the grace, the right timing, the right tone, the right words. Give me the voice to fulfill the task you give me among the people with whom I live and work.
Challenge: Write down the names of three persons—neighbors, acquaintances, co-workers—who do not have a church home. Pray for them daily. Pray also for a time ripe to invite them to a ministry of your church.
Excerpted from Cultivating Fruitfulness, ©Abingdon Press, 2008.