14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 16 and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.
Recently I read an article in Christianity Today by a woman describing what she called her “train wreck conversion”. She tells the story of God breaking into her life and confronting her with His presence through the wise witness of a Presbyterian minister. I was crying by the end of the article, moved by the work God did through the Church and in this woman’s life, but what struck me the most was her description of how the pastor and his family engaged her.
All too often the stories we read about Christians highlight hypocrisy, pride, and often times oppression. In this story, we read of a pastor who accepts into his family a woman with a very negative view (and it seems very negative experiences) of Christianity, and does not invite her to church. In fact, this last part is one of the reasons the author claims to have felt safe with him. Rather than asking her to come to worship with him, this pastor invited her to meals, engaged in dialogue, prayed in front of her, and was honest about his own sin. He invested. He invited her into his life and the life of his family.
That’s when she went to church. That is how God chose to draw her near. Had this pastor chosen the rout most of us do by extending an immediate invitation to corporate worship, she likely would have headed for the hills. Instead, he took the longer more difficult road of showing her love.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we shouldn’t invite people to church, nor am I downplaying its role in extending the gospel, but I think sometimes we try to use it as the easy way out. Let the pastor share the gospel, let him do that part…it’s too hard…it’s his job anyway…I wouldn’t know what to say. But what speaks volumes to the lost and the left behind (which really is all of us if we’re honest) is investing in their lives, seeing past how they’ve been labeled (or how they’ve chosen to label themselves) and through to their stories, to who God has made them. They become a person rather than a project, a soul rather than a stereotype, and you earn the right to speak into their lives.
Let me repeat: invite people to church; just don’t use it as an excuse not to lovingly extend the gospel by way of pouring into another person’s life. God uses relationships to draw people into a relationship with Himself, and I truly believe He will bless even are most pathetic efforts.