Invitation, Challenge, and Peter Block

At the heart of Jesus’ way of making disciples is the two-fold invitation and challenge. Our faith community, Church of the Common Table, has been thinking through these things as of late. When you look through the gospel accounts, it becomes evident that Jesus was constantly extending invitation into his life – this kingdom-of-God type life where loving one’s enemies is possible, where forgiving your brother is possible, where redemption and new life begin as small bits of yeast and yet leaven the entire bread. He does this by calling out to others and extending himself and his life unto them. My friend Ben Sternke describes it this way: “Invitation refers to an attitude that says, ‘I’m glad you are here, I’m committed to you and will welcome you no matter what.'”

But Jesus doesn’t end there. His mode of discipleship – of teaching others to both be and do like himself – is found in the tension of invitation and challenge. Again, Ben describes “challenge” as: “I want you to grow, I’m committed to holding you accountable to change for the better.” Or to put it another way, my friend Andrew Dowsett says, “By invitation, I mean that he opens himself up to others, makes himself vulnerable, and invites people to know him and be known by him. By challenge, I mean that his life inspires others to change the direction in which they are heading.” Challenge is what pushes people to go beyond themselves and realize that their way of living doesn’t line up with the realities of life in the kingdom of God. It urges us to “repent and believe” over and over again.

Although this is a very short and elementary understanding of invitation and challenge, it is the foundation of Jesus’ way of transferring his life into and unto his apprentices. It is with this (and much more of course) in mind that I read the following piece from Peter Block’s amazing work, Community: The Structure of Belonging. This isn’t a Christian book; rather it is a wise look at the nature of community in general. I find it interesting that at the heart of what Block is getting at is this tension between invitation and challenge.

Give it a read and let me know what you think. How does this give us a starting point for building community?

Hospitality, the welcoming of strangers, is the essence of a restorative community…The conversation for invitation is the decision to engage other citizens to be part of the possibility that we are committed to. The invitation is in itself an act of generosity, and the mere act of inviting may have more meaning than anything that happens in the gathering.

An invitation is more than just a request to attend; it is a call to create the alternative future, to join in the possibility we have declared. The question is, ‘What is the invitation we can make for people to participate in creating a future distinct from the past?’

The distinction here is between invitation and the more typical ways of achieving change: mandate and persuasion…An authentic invitation operates without promising incentives or rewards. Offering inducements such as door prizes, gifts, or a celebrity attraction diminishes the clarity of choice of those invited. The lack of inducement keeps a level playing field. When we try to induce people to show up through strong selling or the language of enrolling, we are adding subtle pressure that, in a small but important way, blurs the freely taken decision to say yes…To sell or induce is not operating by invitation. It is using the language of invitation as a subtle form of control.

Invitation is a language act. ‘I invite you.’ Period. This is a powerful conversation because at the moment of inviting, hospitality is created in the world.

So, the invitation is a request not only to show up but to engage. It declares, ‘We want you to come, but if you do, something will be requested from you.’ Too many leadership initiatives or programs are begun with a sales and marketing mindset: How do we seduce people to sign up and feel good about doing things they may not want to do?Real change, however, is a self-inflicted wound.People need to self-enroll in order to experience their freedom and commitment.Let this begin in the decision to attend, knowing there is a price to be paid far beyond the cost of time and perhaps money.

The best invitation I have run across, which got a lot of attention for awhile, was from Ernest Shackleton, who in the early 1900s was recruiting for an antarctic expedition. Supposedly he ran an ad in the London Times that read: ‘Wanted: Men for Antarctic Expedition. Low Pay. Lousy Food. Safe Return Doubtful.’ Perfect. He reportedly got 5,000 applicants.

taken from Chapter 11: “Invitation” of  Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block (pages 114-122; emphasis mine)

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