When I visit other churches, leaders tell me: “We struggle to have any influence in our community much less the world. We are small and only getting smaller. We can hardly pay the pastor much less help anyone else. We have only few children. Those regulars who still attend church attend less often. We have no funds to pay staff salaries. Our volunteers are faithful but old and tired. What are we to do?”
What are we to do? What would Jesus say?
To a similar group of church leaders, Jesus told a parable: “A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. When all was ready, he sent his servant around to notify the guests that it was time for them to come. But they all began making excuses. One said he had just bought a field and wanted to inspect it. Another said he had just bought five pair of oxen and wanted to try them out. Another had just been married, so he said he couldn’t come.” (Luke 14:16-20)
A great event is planned; so great, that nothing else matters. Gold embossed invitations are sent to those who attend any occasion: ‘good’ people, ‘important’ people who are successful and influential. The same people who would proudly claim membership to a church, your church. God is giving them an invitation.
This is the same church that claims to be small and getting smaller, who can hardly pay the pastor much less anyone else. Those regulars who still attend but attend less often. They are unable to attend the most important event of all time because…. excuses; good excuses but excuses just the same.
What is God’s response?
“‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the city and invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.’ After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘there is still room for more.’ So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. For none of those I invited first will get the smallest taste of what I had prepared for them.'” (14:21-24)
We receive an invitation and expected to respond. If we don’t, God will invite others and we will miss out.
The ‘feast’ describes God’s invitation to go out into the world and be the church, make a difference, heal the sick, help the poor, care for the needy. Our ideal response should be to say ‘yes’ with faith believing that our service to God is more important than our occupation, our family or even our very lives. We say yes, knowing there are obstacles but trusting in God to provide answers, resources and courage to enable us to do far more than we ever imagined possible.
No one can do all that… can they? Probably not. We are too human, too flawed but the point of the story is not to make you feel guilty for what you can’t do. Everyone fails to measure up in some way or another. The point of the story is to help us realize that God is sending us an invitation and trust God’s guidance. When we stop trying, stop trusting, excuses start to flow, ministry stops, and churches fail.
A nurse received an invitation to go with a group to Jamaica offering medical aid. The stories she told of the lives healed by their aid and the spiritual impact of their Christian witness had a profound effect on us all. One person received an invitation and her response changed lives in Jamaica and changed lives in our church. Others would soon respond to God’s invitation.
Later, a tornado destroyed a nearby church. Within hours our church offered an invitation to share their building. For many months we shared a building, worshipped and participated in ministry together. A local builder challenged our church and the community to build them a new church. Inspired by his vision and leadership, people from all over the community donated supplies and talents. Soon, a beautiful new church replaced the old. A testimony to what one individual, one church and one community receiving an invitation from God can do to help others.
Responding to God’s invitation is what ministry and God’s church is all about. So, to those churches struggling to survive, to pay their bills, I offer the following:
- Don’t make excuses. Don’t quit.
- Pray for guidance and wisdom.
- Be alert for God’s invitation.
- Respond in faith and you will begin to make a difference in the community and around the world.
Answering God’s invitation will often challenge you to step outside of what is comfortable and move toward the miraculous. There are always challenges, disappointments and risks but the rewards of responding to God’s invitation far outweigh any costs.
As followers of God we are judged not by our church attendance, Bible study, hymn singing or the size of our offering. Pursuing these aspects of our faith enable us to become better Christians. But we are judged by how we respond to God’s invitation to be in ministry to our community and to our world.
God continually sends invitations to be the church during challenging times. Our faithful response should be to say ‘yes’ to the invitation knowing that serving God is more important than our occupation, our family or even our very lives. We say yes trusting God for answers, resources and courage to enable us to do far more than we ever imagined possible.