Frequently, in meetings with other church leaders, I’m told: “There is little hope for our church to have any influence in even our community much less the world. We are small and only getting smaller so that we can hardly pay our pastor and other bills much less effectively help anyone else. We have very few young people to give us energy. We have no money to pay additional staff salaries. Our volunteers are faithful but they are old and tired. What are we to do?”
Jesus told a parable that provides solid answers: “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)
God seems to be the ‘man’ in the parable inviting us, the church, to a great feast; so great, that nothing else should take precedence. The invitations come at first to the guests we would expect to attend any great feast. The so-called ‘good’ people of the community: land owners, shopkeepers and those commonly described as successful and influential: the same people who would also proudly claim membership to a church. In other words, God is inviting the church first.
Yet, these very same people, ‘good’ people who receive gold embossed invitations from God are the ones who for one reason or another are simply unable to attend the most important event of all time: claiming to be busy buying land or other business necessities or too busy with personal matters. Excuses! Good excuses but excuses just the same but don’t judge them too quickly.
Remember the excuses given by our own church leaders? “We are so small. We have very few young people. We have no money. Our members are old and tired.” Do they sound familiar?
What is God’s response? “The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was angry and said, ‘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 even the smallest taste of what I had prepared for them.'” (Luke 14:21-24)
Ouch! As the church we apparently receive the first invitation to God’s feast but then we are expected to respond. If we don’t, the implication is that God will invite others and we will miss out.
How are we to respond when we are so limited? What does God expect us to do?
Good question. Obviously the ‘feast’ describes God’s opportunity for us to be the church in a big way. Our response should be to say ‘yes’ to the invitation with faith 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.
Can it really be that simple? A few years ago, I would be sincerely struggling to give you a good answer to that question. Our church was growing and active in the community but we were not really a mission oriented church. Then several of our members traveled to Jamaica to offer medical aid and church construction help. Their stories and the enthusiastic change God brought into their lives affected us all. At this point we were becoming eager for more opportunities.
On December 26, 2004 a massive Tsunami swept the Indian Ocean. More than eleven countries were struck by the enormous waves with a loss of life estimated at more than 300,000 people. Quickly our church raised funds. But, now what could we do? How could we become more directly involved? As we searched for answers, God began to change me and our church.