A Discipler's Guide to Spiritual Conversations (5/7): Invite
In our last post we looked at what it means once you are at a place of sharing with the person you are discipling. Once someone has actually heard good news, the gospel of Jesus, and how He has tangibly worked in their life, they often wonder what is their next step. This can be a challenging aspect having spiritual conversations as many are afraid to invite people in further for fear of rejection or possibly messing up the relationship you have cultivated up to this point.
But, what if instead of shying away from the opportunity for an invitation, you went back to being present and help them process what they are feeling and what next steps may look like for them. A word of caution, there is nothing inherently wrong with having systems for inviting people within a church structure, but be cautious you’re not just plugging them into a program or system. Instead tailor their next steps to their needs.
We always look to Jesus as our ultimate example and Jesus, Himself, was all about the invite. Looking at the life of Jesus we see many examples of invitations, some even strange. We see him invite people to eat with him, to surrender to him, to walk with him, to be healed by him, to rest in him, and the list continues as we could write a book on the invitations we see Jesus extend. We even see Jesus inviting Himself over for dinner.
One example that stands out to me is in Luke 19 where Jesus enters Jericho and encounters a tax collector by the name of Zacchaeus. To refresh your memory, Zacchaeus was not only a tax collector in the traditional sense, but he also flat out cheated people out of their money. This is the type of man that people hated and wanted nothing to do with. Jesus not only invited Himself over for dinner to his house, but He also extended an invitation while there for this man to leave his life of lies and possessions in order to experience salvation.
What we see Jesus do here is often foreign to what most of us experience within the North American context. Dustin Willis captures this well in his book Life on Mission by saying, “Within the North American church, evangelism is too often reduced to inviting someone to a church service in hopes that the preacher’s message that day is engaging, states all the right ideas, and in the end leads to your friend walking an aisle, filling out a response card, or raising their hand.”
Willis goes on to say, “Please understand us clearly, there is nothing wrong with investing for the sake of inviting a person to a church service, but know that seeing someone move closer to Jesus is going to take much more than that. If we are going to reach people where they are, we have to be bold enough to speak the gospel where they are and not wait on the ‘professional’ to do what every believer has been explicitly called to do.”
The invitation to Zacchaeus is the same invitation Jesus has given to the entire world, which he states in this story: “The Son of Man has come to seek and at save the lost” (Luke 19:10). For some, the next step will be inviting them to trust Jesus, if they haven’t already, as they embrace what He has declared in light of where they are. For others, taking a deeper look at Scriptures with you is their next step. The key in this step is dependence on the Spirit’s leading as the next step is determined on a case-by-case basis.
We must remember that we do not just present the gospel truth to people we are discipling only to the point that they accept it, and then move on, which is the tendency of many evangelists. We must continually invite people into a deeper, discipling relationship with the Father. Inviting people into further discipling relationships will look different in each context.
A recent example in my own life is a friend of mine name Jim (not his real name). I initially met Jim while I was out to dinner one Friday night with my family. We quickly struck up a conversation that led to us getting together a few weeks later. I started out being present with Jim, which led to me listening to him as I heard his story first. He also wanted to hear my story so I opened up and shared about my story and saw where many points of our story, while different, still intersected.
A month went by and Jim reached out to me to get together again, at which point I took the next step of invitation. It does not usually happen this quickly for me, but I sensed based on our previous times together that Jim was ready to study Scripture together as we look at the life of Jesus. Sure enough, I took the discipling step of invitation as I invited Jim to read the New Testament with me as we study the life of Jesus.
There is no silver bullet when it comes to taking the step of inviting people you are discipling further. If you are first present with people, listen and lean into their needs, share your story in light of their story, then the Spirit will guide you into the invitation step. The gospel is a free invitation to all of us and one that we should readily invite others into as we join Jesus in uniting all things to himself.