I’ve been thinking about invitations lately. Mostly from a desire to receive them more often, despite regular invitations from my close friends; invitations to movies, to lunch, to talk, to walk, or to simply share space for a time. A perceived lack of invitation, while a reality in some cases, misunderstanding in others, and merely irrational in the rest, lead me to think a bit more about what being invited is all about.
The truth is, a genuine, non-cookie-cutter invitation to something is very welcoming and warm. If I had my choice, I’d want to be invited to nearly everything I did in a unique, creative, and original fashion every time. Personal, weekly invitations to Church, daily invitations to work, monthly invitations to that meeting I go to could be an amazing thing. The truth is, for most things (that monthly meeting probably withstanding), I am warmly invited to all the things that I do, just not explicitly. Regular Church attendees are rarely, if ever, explicitly invited to Church or regularly scheduled functions. Employees do not receive daily phone calls or visits inviting them to their jobs. You probably have to be invited to the monthly meeting, but only to find out exactly when, where, and to get an agenda, so the “invitation” is more of a call to order than a welcome. Once you are a member of the group, the point of an invitation is fairly redundant since it can be counted on that you’ll come regardless.
Contrast this with the visitor who can only know to come via an invitation. We are invited to Church and hopefully become full members to worship God, we are offered a job and hopefully render services to the company, and we are asked to join the group that meets every month so that we may share our knowledge and experience with the larger group (ideally). This is really the point of an invitation, to show someone that their presence is desired in hopes that they will continue to share their presence over a longer period of time. But I think that isn’t enough; that an invitation is far more than a get-them-in-the-door tactic.
The next step up, to me, is how the invitation can operate with people who are already members of the group. This is a point I’m not as sure about as others. How do you invite someone to something they are likely to attend without the invitation? It could be as simple as asking if they’ll be there. Perhaps we mention to them that we enjoy their company as well. At work, this may be as simple as telling a co-worker that you’ll see them tomorrow. Since “See you tomorrow” is so engrained in the speech of our culture as a normal good-bye, why not say, “I’m looking forward to working on that project next week” or “I hope we have time to chat after the worship service tomorrow” instead? As I type those, they sound a lot like things we might say to people newly invited and around, but not quite members yet (outside of those areas where there is a distinct transition from non-member to member like a job). Inviting the long-standing members of a group isn’t all that different from inviting those who may soon be members. While I think that’s a lot for me and most of the groups I’ve been a part of in my life, I don’t that’s nearly enough either. My thoughts lately have turned towards another idea that is new to me, though it may not be so to you.
It is the belief of the Christian Church that we are each invited by Jesus to join Him in the redemption of creation and the activities involved in that. It’s an invitation born out of sacrifice and resurrection and power and grace and love. We are not forced, but I think we are compelled and quite strongly at that. I know of no one who does not feel warmth from a genuine invitation to something good. When I am invited for dinner, I can’t help but smile in response to the brush of friendship and love against my soul. The more I experience that warmth, the more I want to experience it until I feel nothing else. But it never lasts forever for the invitations I give and receive can never be as whole and complete as the invitation Jesus gives. Each invitation is really just a shadow of His and the warmth a reflection of the over-powering response His invitation evokes. Here, I think, is where those who would follow Jesus should aim: to see in every invitation an expression of the invitation Jesus gives. Remembering in our minds and hearts that all are invited by Jesus regardless of who they are or the choices they have made, we should seek to invite the Strangers and the Familiar around us in like fashion appropriate to the context in which we find ourselves. Remembering in our minds and hearts that Jesus is inviting us to join Him, we should seek to perceive His invitation in each that we are extended. Then we can begin to know what it means to welcome others and be welcomed ourselves.