As the conversation about mission, membership and the future of the Uniting Church continues, Rev Peter Lockhart encourages us to discover the possibility that we are being invited by Jesus to share in his work in the world.
In his analysis of possible future scenarios for the Uniting Church Dr Keith Suter suggests that the paradox of Uniting Church membership is this: “On the one hand, it seems to be doing the ‘right’ thing: it is one of the most open, inviting of churches; all are welcome in the Uniting Church. On the other hand, the Uniting Church’s hospitality is not attracting many new members.”
It is great to think that we have a reputation as an open and inviting church, and that developing a welcoming culture as a congregation is an expression of faithful hospitality.
Yet being open and inviting could also imply that the primary stance we have is one that waits for others to come to us. It could also infer that we are the ones who have the power and the privilege to do the inviting, even though I believe we do not.
When Jesus speaks of being welcomed by the faithful ones in Matthew 25, the welcome given to the strangers, the sick, the hungry and the thirsty appears far more dynamic than being about people who waited around.
When we consider Jesus’ own ministry these are the kinds of people whom Jesus himself met on the highways and byways of life. In Matthew 25 Jesus identifies himself in those individuals he encountered as he travelled in the community.
If we understand that Jesus is already out there within individuals in the community, then maybe it is we disciples, the church, who are being invited by Jesus to meet him in others.
As a minister I often find myself being invited into the community in a variety of ways to participate in public events or being invited to conduct particular ceremonies. It could be easy to be sceptical about these invitations but if I take the approach that it could be Jesus inviting me, it changes my attitude.
As we go on wondering about how to be welcoming and inviting as congregations, maybe we also need to hear the reciprocal invitations being given by people around us to share in their lives and to meet Jesus where he is already at work in the community.
What invitations have you personally received lately? Did you consider the possibility that it might have been Jesus inviting you?
Peter is minister with St Lucia Uniting Church and chair of the Board for Christian Formation.
A free copy of Dr Keith Suter’s PhD can be downloaded from churchfutures.com.au