I was out of town this weekend, so I had the opportunity to visit an Eastern Orthodox church. It was so, so different in practice from the churches I have attended. They did part of the service in English and part of it in Russian. The officiants were in robes and spent part of the time in front of an alter in the front of the church behind an ornate carved screen. They used burning incense to bless and cover the congregants during the service. We had to stand and sit and kneel and read prayers and other liturgy from books. I was a foreigner, and I was lost.
It made me think a lot about culture and about what we invite people to when we invite them to Jesus. Rather, it made me ask the question, "what are we inviting people to?" Are we inviting them to our church, to worship God in the exact same way that we do? Or are we inviting them into a lifetime of knowing and following Jesus?
I have the sense that many times our expressions of worship alienate and separate rather than invite and include. I'm not sure that separation isn't necessary for some, or that it doesn't help create a community of belief that sustains and ministers to itself. But when we expect those outside of the church culture to change enough to fit in within our culture, we are asking an awful lot. And we really are asking for something that many will not be willing to give--maybe not ever, but for sure at least until they really know Jesus and have chosen to follow him. (Whether they should have to do so is a question for another day).
So I think that if we're going to be effective evangelists in today's world, we have to be really really clear within our own hearts and minds about what is essential for belief and relationship with Jesus, and we have to let everything else go by the wayside within our conversations and invitations to those who do not yet believe in or follow Jesus. It would be so unfortunate to let my culture or my expression of worship or my approach to God to so alienate someone that she was no longer interested in talking about God, especially if the something that's alienating her is something that's not essential to faith and godliness.
When I talk about God and about Jesus and about God's story of rescue and redemption and restoration, I want to be inviting people into an abundant life of restored relationships. That's it. That's all. I don't always want to invite them to my church (although they would certainly be welcome there). I don't want them to feel pressured to pray exactly the way I do (though I would be happy to pray with them and for them and to model my approach). I don't want them to think that there's only one way to express devotion or to spend time with God or to hear from God. I want to be there to help them discover what God is calling them to. I want to provide them with resources and connections to other followers of Christ. I want to prayerfully seek to hear from the Holy Spirit what he is doing in their hearts. I want to walk with them and learn from them too.
So what do you think are the things that are essential to invite others into when you are inviting them to faith?