So we're in the middle of week one of our month of prayer. This Wednesday is our second day of fasting - see more. This week we've been praying specifically around the theme of GATHER.
When I think about Gathering what springs to mind is how as a church community we can grow in being an invitational, hospitable movement - rich in welcome and generosity? We are a relational movement, we value authentic friendships, we work at creating safe spaces where people can be vulnerable, we tell people who engage with us as a church to 'come as you are'. Those things are deeply important. We grow, change, reach out and move in purpose out of the overflow of real community. That's why we talk loads about being a 'family on mission together'.
The challenge, though, is that when we find a safe space of acceptance sometimes it can be difficult not to get stuck there. We take on the real friendship part of the deal but we forget the purpose we are together, which is to see lives and communities transformed. We stop taking the risks of inviting our friends or colleagues into the same encounter we have had. We stop embracing the awkwardness and discomfort of new relationships and of spending time with the broken and marginalised. We move away from the mess rather than into it.
That's the tension, the necessary tension of real community. Real community challenges us to move past the comfort of our pain and into the discomfort of purpose. We are encouraged to grow, forgive, let go, honour, take responsibility, love the unlovely, step past fear. Our friends, the ones who at first created a place of welcome and safety, a place we needed, are now the ones who are saying, "you were made for more!" "Jesus wants to use you, to change you". Why? Why can't they just leave me in the place of safety and acceptance? Because they love us. Because they know that you have something beautiful to offer those around you. And because, if we don't move beyond pain and into our God-given purpose our pain will become toxic and we'll get stuck.
So to gather, is to value authentic, vulnerable relationships centred around the present reality of Jesus, but its also to hold that in tension with reaching out beyond our comfort to those on the fringes of our community; the least, the last and the lost.
So where is the Holy Spirit inviting you to look beyond your own safe circle of friendships today and to invite others in? Where do you need to take a little bit of a risk and make the invitation - to church, to a meal, for a coffee?
Action: why not take a few minutes in prayer and ask God to bring 5 people to mind, write them down, and begin to pray for them - pray with an open heart and a readiness to respond with invitation.