Recently our neighbors invited us to a Super Bowl Party at their home. This isn’t the first year they have invited us, but it is the first time we said yes. I have to admit, though, that there were several reasons I wanted to say no.
First, of course it was on a Sunday. The afternoon game time meant I could easily get home from the church where I was speaking. But Sunday afternoon is usually a time when I can relax a little, have some personal time, and maybe even take a nap. I kind of wanted the option of falling asleep in front of the game, rather than socializing through it.
Second, the people that were inviting us aren’t very much like us, and we both knew that. Before offering the invitation, our neighbor asked, “Do you mind being around people who are drinking?” The invitation itself then came with assurances that there would be soft drinks available as well. I guess we’re known as “the Baptists on the block,” and most of our neighbors know I’m in full-time ministry.
Third, I wasn’t sure exactly what kind of position we might find ourselves in at this party. Who else would be there? Would we even find we had much in common to talk about? Would others wonder why we were there, especially after not coming in previous years, and would they be watching us for ways we might not fit in?
Finally, I wondered what kinds of other commitments might be asked of us as a result of this party. Did they need new workers for the neighborhood workday or workday? Would we now be asked to buy more wrapping paper or Girl Scout cookies from their kids?
I know, all those suspicions and phobias don’t sound very trusting, or even mature, do they? And yet as I reflected on all the reasons I wanted to tell our neighbors no once again, I realized that many of those same thoughts probably run through the mind of anyone who is invited to church by his or her neighbor.
When we invite our neighbors to church, we may feel like we are inviting them to a wonderful place where we have the richest worship experiences and deepest friendships of our lives. But in their minds we may be asking them to take a big slice of their most personal time and spend it with people they suspect are not very much like them, and who may press them for changes they’re not ready to make.
So instead of saying no to the Super Bowl party this year, we said yes. It wasn’t just because we empathized with how hard it is to invite someone to something. It was because our neighbor taught us something about the art of a sincere invitation.
First, she has gradually but consistently built a closer and more trusting relationship with us. I now believe she wouldn’t intentionally put us in an awkward or compromising position. She obviously knows we’re different than many of those who will be at the party, but she respects our values and looks for ways to accommodate them. She seems interested in us personally, and not with whether we will conform to others. And she has persistently and warmly invited us, even when we’ve always said no. Her invitation came from her heart.
There was one more thing. In saying yes this time, we also knew there would be at least three couples present for whom we’ve been praying, and looking for opportunities to share Christ. In fact one of those couples is our host. And in an ironic way, God has used the very neighbors for whom we’ve been praying to show us the art, and the heart, of a good invitation.