Giving the Invitation

george-whitefield-preaching

Joe LaGuardia’s new book, Awe and Trembling: Reflections for the Christian Journey, is scheduled to be released in late May.  As an anthology of articles and homilies from the Baptist Spirituality archives, the book encourages, inspires, and deepens a life of faith and our pilgrimage with God.  This article, originally released in 2013, is included in the book.  

By Joe LaGuardia

Like so many churches in the South, the church I pastor, Trinity Baptist Church in Conyers, Georgia, still has a time of invitation after the sermon every Sunday.  It consists of an altar call or a request for worshipers to reflect on the message, along with a moving hymn to stir the heart.

Although this might seem a bit antiquated—a hold-over from a simpler, revivalist tradition of yesteryear—it still holds a meaningful place in the midst of our worship to God.  It is, at its basic level, a time to respond to God and reflect on a personal challenge for the week ahead.

I realized long ago that our church is too small to give an altar call every week.  I’m not one of those preachers who make the pianist play the hymn repeatedly until someone comes forward, so over the years I’ve had to expand my invitation to include other calls of response.  I now urge my parishioners to take the initiative to respond to God on their own terms.

The shift in emphasis from invitation to initiative is a reminder that there are many ways to respond to God aside from an altar call, decision for baptism, and prayer with the preacher.  In fact, all of us—no matter where we are in our faith—should realize that an invitation is a time to follow God’s leading.  God is in the business of calling us to action, obedience, surrender, and mission.  We are obligated to respond if we claim to believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

One way we can respond is by committing to a life of praise and song.  I don’t envy the Christian who only hears or sings praises to God for a few hours a week.  Ours is to be a life of song, and we can sing and recite hymns or choruses wherever we are, no matter the day or the hour.  The Bible is full of praises that intend to respond to God: “How good it is to invite us to respond to God,” Psalm 147 states, “for God is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.”

Another response is to do something for the Lord each and every week.  This action can be as simple as writing a card to a friend in need or a church member who is struggling.  It can be something more demanding, such as “paying it forward” by purchasing a stranger’s groceries at the store.

You may also choose to do something based on the sermon.  I’m sure your preacher’s messages include at least one challenge for the week ahead.  When your pastor gives a challenge or sermon application that is fitting, write it down so you don’t forget.  Consider posting or tweeting your commitment on social media so that people can hold you accountable.

A final way to respond to God is to live a “life worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1).  I realize that people are called to do different things in life: one is called to be a teacher while another is called to be a missionary.  All of us, however, are included within the calling we are all obligated to fulfill—namely, to practice the Great Commission and “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).  This requires holy integrity and obedience to God’s empowering Spirit, to walk in righteousness, and to advocate for justice and grace.

Some churches have done away with the traditional invitation, and more than one church has put hymns such as “I Surrender All” aside.  But all of us, whether in a church with revivalist leanings, contemporary praise songs or formal liturgies, bear the weight of responding to a God who calls, seeks, knocks, and commissions with relentless passion.

God’s Invitation to the Table

banqBy Emily Holladay

“One day, Jesus said to a host who had him over for dinner, ‘When you throw a party, don’t invite your friends  or the well-to-do.  They can repay you, so what’s the fun of that?

Rather, invite those who can’t pay you back, people that others overlook: the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.    Once you share in their company, and they share in yours, you will be blessed” (Luke 14:12-14).

Hey, you. Yeah, you. You know who I’m talking to. You, the one standing in the corner over there. Do you know that you’ve been invited to this party?

Just like that guy in his cool hipster skinny jeans and flannel shirt chatting up the tall, beautiful girl with perfect brown, layered, flowing hair wearing the dress that falls along her thin figure accentuating all her barely visible, but perfectly shaped curves.

You were invited, just like the old man at the head of the table wearing his seersucker pants, white polo, and state championship ring (probably from some pretentious sport he played in high school).

Just like the clean shaven, medium height, middle-aged man without the slightest trace of balding in his thick black hair, which is smeared with gel creating the same picturesque “do” sported by the likes of Rob Lowe and Alec Baldwin. That man in the fancy looking suit that he clearly bought at JC Penney because he wanted to look like he could afford the latest JosABank line item. You see him over there schmoozing the host, hoping for a better seat at the table… more invites to the club… maybe even a ticket to the next big show the host’s company is sponsoring?

Yeah, I know you see him. But guess what? He got the same invitation you did. The same 5X7 envelope with the “I Love Lucy” postage stamp in the upper right corner and small, chicken-scratch handwriting front and center.

Look around. All the people you’re “sizing up?” The ones you think are better than you, prettier than you, or simply have more right to be here than you do? They all got the same piece of glossy paper with the words, “You’re invited!” in big, bold letters across the top.

Just like you, most of them (with the exception of that hipster guy who wears the same outfit every day) spent hours deciding what they would wear and how they would fix their hair. Like you, many of them wondered if they would know anyone at the party, what they would talk about, and how they would fit in.

The difference?

You’re in the corner thinking about how miserable you are. You’re looking around at all of them, mystified that you were ever invited to such an affair. And you’re not giving any of “them” a chance because you won’t give yourself a chance.

I dare you.

I dare you to believe that you are enough, even with all your flaws – your nose that feels too big for your face, your hair that “makes your face look fat,” and all the other things that get in the way of seeing your own worth. I dare you to look at yourself and claim your personhood. Declare yourself valuable.

I dare you to look at yourself – the way you’re looking at all the other people in this room – like you are meant to be here.

Because you are! Your presence here is intentional. Your host likes you. Your host values your company. And your host thinks you have something special to offer the community gathered at her house today.

Most importantly, you are wanted here. You. And the hipster dude. And that girl who’s too attractive for her own good. And the state champion guy. And the greasy-haired Rob Lowe look-alike. All of you were meant to be in this room together. All of you, without exception.

So, take a few steps forward… and a few more… Come out of the corner and join the party! You might find your best friend among this vastly growing group of characters. Or you might find that the girl whose petite curves drove you to insane jealousy needs your compassionate and loving presence to help her navigate the world of people who can’t see past her looks.

Join the party! You may find that the host is ecstatic to welcome you into her community of friends and loved ones.

Join the party! You may just find that you belong here.

God speaks; we must respond

revivalLike so many churches in the South, our church still has a time of invitation after the sermon every Sunday.  It usually consists of an altar call or some call to reflect on the service along with a moving song, “Trust and Obey” and the like.

Although the time of invitation seems a bit antiquated–a hold-over from a simpler, revivalist tradition of yesteryear–it still holds a meaningful place in the midst of our worship to God.  It is, at its basic level, a time to respond to God and reflect on the challenge that God may have for the new week ahead.

I realized long ago that Trinity is too small a church to give an altar call every week.  I’m not one of those preachers who makes the pianist play the hymn over and over again until someone comes forward, so over the years I’ve had to expand my invitation to include other call of responses as well.  I now include the challenge to come forward if prayer is needed; I also encourage churchgoers to pray for one another even if it means moving over a few rows.

It is a reminder that there are many ways to respond to God aside from an altar call, decision for baptism, and prayer with the preacher.  In fact, all of us–no matter where we are in our faith–should realize that an invitation is a time to follow God’s leading at all costs.

God is in the business of calling us to action, obedience, surrender, and missions.  We are certainly obligated to respond if we claim to believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

One way we can respond to God’s leading is by committing to a life of praise and song.  I don’t envy the Christian who only hears or sings praises to God for only one or two hours a week.  Ours is a life of song, and we can sing and recite hymns or choruses wherever we are, no matter the day or the hour.

The Bible is full of praises that serve as responses to God.  “How good it is to sing praises to our God,” Psalm 147 states, “for God is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting” (NRSV).

Another way to respond to God’s call is to do something for the Lord each and every week.  This action can be as simple as writing a card to a friend in need or a church member who is struggling, or it can be more demanding such as “paying it forward” for a stranger’s groceries at the store.

You may also choose to do something based on the sermon from week to week.  I’m sure your preacher’s sermons are like mine in that they include at least one challenge for the week ahead.  When your pastor gives a challenge or sermon application that is fitting, write it down so you don’t forget.  Then publish your commitment on some social media website to have people hold you accountable.

A last way to respond to God is to live a “life worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1).  I realize that people are called to do different things in life: one is called to be a teacher, while another is called to be a missionary.

All of us, however, fit under the umbrella of the one calling all Christians are obligated to fulfill, which is to practice the Great Commission and “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).  It is also a calling to “live a life worthy”; that is, live life with holy integrity and obedience to God’s empowering Spirit, to walk in righteousness and advocate for justice and grace.

Sure, some churches have done away with the traditional invitation.  Not every church will sing “I Surrender All” every now and then; but all of us, whether in a church with revivalist leanings or contemporary praise, bear the weight of responding to a God who calls, seeks, knocks, and commissions with relentless passion.