You're Invited: A Four-Week Series Focusing on Your Witness and Mission to the World
Worship planning for Pentecost may be challenging, but a wealth of creative resources are available. Much attention has been given to this high, holy day. Pentecost, with its focus on the death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ and the fulfillment of Christ’s promise to empower us with the Holy Spirit, is the culmination of the Easter season. But what about the Sundays following Pentecost?
The weeks following Pentecost and Trinity Sunday would be a natural time to focus on your congregation’s witness and mission to the world. Having just celebrated Christ’s gift of the church and the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and the triune God on the following Sunday, it is appropriate to ask ourselves how we might respond to this grace-filled blessing. Focusing on the movement of the Spirit, we hear the Spirit calling us to proclaim the gospel to the world; and so, in faith and with gratitude, we follow the Spirit’s leading.
Before beginning, it may be important to gauge your congregation’s attitude toward evangelism. First, tear down any perceived wall between “us” (faithful/believers) and “them” seekers / nonbelievers/those without a relationship with Jesus Christ). Remind your congregation that we all fall short of the glory of God—we too are “the least of these,” the “lost,” and the “blind.” Additionally, lift up the points where believers’ lives and nonbelievers’ spiritual longings connect. For instance, most of your congregation can understand their own faith stories in terms of a journey. Seeing a seeker as a fellow sojourner can be a powerful image for finding common ground.
Second, build your ministry of evangelism on a foundation of hospitality. Compelling biblical witness points to God’s initiative in calling people to faith. Most people think of evangelism only in terms of “go,” but there is a definite “come” component as well. Encourage your congregation to become great at welcoming and responding to the needs of the seekers God brings to your door. As your hospitality grows and deepens, so too will your congregation’s desire to reach those whom God is calling.
“You’re Invited!” is built on the common experience of receiving and sending an invitation. An invitation always answers the questions of who, what, where, when, and how to respond. For the next four weeks, together with your congregation, we invite you to consider how you might extend hospitality in the household of God.
You’re Invited! By Whom?
Call to Worship (Psalm 105:1-5, 7)
O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he has uttered.
He is the Lord our God; his judgments are in all the earth.
Prayer of Confession (repeat each week)
Lord, you come to us, but we do not recognize you; you call, but we do not follow; you command, but we do not obey, you bless us, but we do not thank you.
Please forgive and help us.
Lord, you forgive us, but we do not forgive those who wrong us; you love us, but we do not love our neighbors.
Please forgive and help us.
Lord, you showed us how to carry out your mission, but we still insist on our own; you identified yourself with outcasts, the needy, and the poor, but we do not bother to find out what is happening to them; you suffered and died for the sake of all, but we do not give up our comfortable lives.
Please forgive and help us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
—The Worship Sourcebook, 2.2.21, used by permission of Christian Education.
Ezekiel 34:11-16 (God, the True Shepherd)
Luke 14:12-14 (Banquet Invitees)
- When an invitation arrives in our mailbox, we immediately look at the return address and the addressee. Who is sending the invitation, and who is receiving it?
- As the sender, God is the great seeker, the One who forever seeks. The Ezekiel passage portrays God as a shepherd who will search for his sheep. And Luke makes clear that the invitation should be sent far and wide, beyond those we think of first—those most like us. Lift up the wide-seeking love of God. Invite your congregation to recognize that God is already present in the lives of those at your door.
- Asking whom God is seeking helps the congregation understand that we are all seekers; we all are “lost.” This helps the congregation begin to make connections with newcomers.
- Emphasize that if we first see ourselves as invitees, we are in a position to be good hosts.
- Note that Jesus tells this parable in his role as guest. Just as Jesus is both host and guest, so are we both guests and hosts. This point is especially powerful when it leads into communion, using the “Invitation to Holy Communion” (see box p. 14).
You’re Invited! To What?
Call to Worship (Psalm 107:1-6, 8-9)
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.
Some wandered in desert wastes . . . hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.
For he satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things.
Isaiah 55: 1-5
- An invitation always includes the reason or purpose for the gathering—a birthday party, a wedding reception, or a fund-raising event. Knowing the reason for the gathering helps us decide if we wish to participate and creates a level of expectation.
- In the Isaiah passage, God invites people to abundant life. In the Matthew passage, Jesus offers rest to the weary. The “what” of the gospel is rich in meaning. Take time to unpack the deep meaning of salvation, encouraging the congregation beyond thinking of salvation in terms of a bus ticket to heaven. Drawing attention to salvation as liberation from bondage and oppression, and as a journey from separation to return, will not only connect with the faith stories of believers but also speak to the deep longing of seekers in your midst.
- Notice that in both of these Scripture lessons, we hear God saying, “Come.” Today lift up the “come” side of evangelism. People who hear God calling will find their way into our lives, here at church and elsewhere in our personal lives. Are we ready to receive those whom God is calling? Can we tell them to what they have been invited?
You’re Invited! Where? When?
Call to Worship (Psalm 36:5-10)
Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.
How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.
O continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your salvation to the upright of heart!
- An invitation always indicates where and when the party will take place. Without this information, we would not be able to attend the festivities. Sometimes we even need to change our plans in order to participate.
- Using Acts 11:1-18 as a summary to Acts 10 (the story of Peter and Conelius), show that the good news is proclaimed in unexpected places and to people seemingly outside the covenant. Invite people to challenge their own preconceived ideas of where the gospel should be shared. Who are the “outsiders”? Where is your congregation reluctant to go? Where are members of your congregation active in their places of work and travel?
- Looking at Luke 9:10-11, note that the opportune time for extending hospitality is not always convenient. The people who came to Jesus interrupted his plans, and without hesitating he gracefully welcomed them. Jesus then used the opportunity to touch the lives of thousands. Confront your congregation’s fears that responding to the needs of seekers may disrupt your congregational life. Address the sacrifice that may necessary when extending hospitality.
- Explore how the body of Christ was blessed by sharing the gospel in new places and at what appeared to be opportune times. What if Peter hadn’t gone to the Gentiles? What if Jesus had kept to his agenda? Hospitality is always about serving others (as opposed to self-serving), although it may benefit the host as well.
You’re Invited! RSVP
Call to Worship (Psalm 67:1-5, 7)
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us,
That your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
May God continue to bless us; let all the ends of the earth revere him.
Ruth 1:8, 14-18
- Review: Who? God is actively seeking and searching for us (“us” includes believers and nonbelievers alike).
What? God invites us to a relationship with himself.
Where and when? God’s hospitality is not bound to a specific place; it is extended even at inconvenient times.
- Invitations often include RSVP, meaning the person who sent the invitation would like a reply.
- How do we respond to the invitation to invite others into a life in Christ? In both the story of Ruth and Naomi and the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, we see a coming alongside another and traveling together on a wilderness road. In both narratives we witness “outsiders” receiving fulfillment as believers guide their seeking. Together they experience the power and the mystery of the Spirit.
- By coming alongside another we can join together in a journey of faith.
Invitation to Communion
He was always the guest.
In the homes of Peter and Jairus,
Martha and Mary, Joanna and Susanna,
he was always the guest.
At the meal tables of the wealthy
where he pled the case of the poor,
he was always the guest.
Upsetting polite company,
befriending isolated people,
welcoming the stranger,
he was always the guest.
at this table,
he is the host.
Those who wish to serve him
must first be served by him,
those who want to follow him
must first be fed by him,
those who would wash his feet
must first let him make them clean.
For this is the table
where God intends us to be nourished;
this is the time
when Christ can make us new.
So come, you who hunger and thirst
for a deeper faith,
for a better life,
for a fairer world.
who has sat at our tables,
now invites us to be guests at his.
—Wee Worship Book, Wild Goose Resource Group, Iona Community, Scotland (Chicago: GIA Publications, 1999), p. 84. Used by permission. www.giamusic.com
For Every Week
“Gracious Spirit” SNC 166
“Gather Us In” SNC 8, WR 649
“He Leadeth Me” CH 690, PsH 452, TH 600, WR 499
“The Lord, My Shepherd, Rules My Life” PsH 23
“God, You Call Us to This Place” SNC 14
“Somos pueblo que camina/We Are People on a Journey” SNC 260
“Come to the Water” SNC 234
“For the Beauty of the Earth” CH 182/793, PH 473, PsH 432, SFL 90, TH 116, WR 40
“Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” CH 648, PH 376, PsH 568, TH 529, WR 358
“There Is a Balm” PH 394, PsH 494, WR 631
“I Will Give You Rest” SNC 70
“From All That Dwell Below the Skies” PH 229
“There Is a Redeemer” CH 308, SNC 145, WR 117
“God of Grace and God of Glory” CH 435, WR 569
“Open Our Eyes” CH 633, SNC 263, WR 491
“If You and I Believe in Christ” SNC 274
“Lead Me, Guide Me” PsH 544, WR 498
“Will You Come and Follow Me” SNC 267, WR 350
“The Servant Song” CH 424, SNC 277, WR 391
“I Will Sing of My Redeemer” CH 309, WR 356
“Send Me, Lord” SNC 280
“Psalm 67” SNC 281
Six years ago I was called by the Reformed Church in America to create a pilot program at Central Reformed Church based on the “catechumenate.” The catechumenate is modeled after the way the early church welcomed seekers into the life of faith and to the waters of baptism. It was revived first in the Roman Catholic Church but has been adapted for many Protestant churches as well. Since in our postmodern context churches can no longer expect that adults who come to them have been raised in the church, the process pairs seekers with mentors, paying particular attention to the spiritual needs of the seekers. Specific movements in the process are marked by worship celebrations culminating in baptism or re-affirmation of faith. For four years at Central Reformed Church we developed and used this model. I was both amazed and humbled by the work of the Spirit as we designed this process and embarked on this journey.
In 2004 I was invited by the Reformed Church in America to join a team for the purpose of developing a resource for welcoming seekers that is informed and guided by the catechumenate. Entitled Companions on the Way, this resource is specifically designed to empower elders to be involved in this very important ministry. Contact Ellen Ratmeyer at firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information.
For more information about the catechumenate, contact the North American Association for the Catechumenate at www.Catechumenate.org.
You’re Invited! Children’s Messages
Pictures of people cut from magazines: old, young, sick, healthy, various skin colors, poor, rich, happy, sad, and so on
Ask kids if they have ever received an invitation in the mail, such as an invitation to a birthday party or wedding. Tell them that you’ll be talking about a very special invitation—an invitation from God.
The first thing we need to think about is who God would send an invitation to. Spread out the pictures of people that you have cut out from magazines. Lovingly look at and touch each one. Ask kids to think about the people God wants to send an invitation to. Picking up each picture, ask kids if God would want to send an invitation to this person. Acknowledge their affirmations and place each picture inside the envelope. When done, look inside your envelope and say that God wants to send an invitation to lots of people!
People pictures from last week pasted all over the envelope
Show the kids the envelope with last week’s pictures of people pasted on it. Say that today you’ll be talking more about God’s invitation. Ask the children to think about what they receive from God. Guide their responses as necessary to mention such things as God’s love, God’s Word, God’s forgiveness, God’s fellowship, and so on. Then mention that God wants others to receive the same things. Pointing to the envelope, say that God wants all these people to receive these things. Invite kids to create symbolic gestures to suggest what God wants to give and put them into the envelope: they could blow kisses into the envelope, drop hugs by first giving a self hug and then brushing that off into the envelope, sing into envelope for praise, fold and open hands for a Bible and drop into envelope, and so on. Say that God invites everyone to receive all these good things.
Envelope from last week in which you’ve placed concrete symbols of God’s gifts (ring for commitment, sheet music for praise, small Bible for knowledge, Hershey’s kiss for love, and so on)
Summarize the last two weeks, saying that you like to think of God’s love in terms of a wonderful party, and that God wants all these people to receive an invitation. Ask kids where they would send the invitation in order to reach all these people. Brainstorm some ideas about where these people might be as you point to different pictures on the envelope (hospitals, schools, grocery stores, airports, streets, and so on). Say that God wants to invite everyone to love Jesus, and that this invitation needs to be sent everywhere.
Envelope from last week on which you’ve drawn or pasted a picture of the world
Tell kids that our invitation is ready to be sent. We know who it is being sent to (point to all the people), we know what people are being invited to (lift up all of God’s gifts as symbolized in envelope), and we know where to send it (point to the world). Ask how in the world we are supposed to send this invitation. Can we put a stamp on it to be delivered? Should we all run from house to house shouting that God loves everybody? Maybe we’d get tired and people might think we’re a bit crazy. We could stand on a street corner and pass out Hershey’s kisses, but everyone knows you shouldn’t take candy from strangers. Suggest that they can send God’s invitation by telling their friends that Jesus loves them. Beyond just telling, brainstorm how they might show God’s love to someone new to their church or to a visitor.