I am struck by the way in which Jesus repeatedly extends invitation and challenge in the accounts of his post-resurrection encounters recorded in the last two chapters of the gospel According To John. In this regard there is absolute continuity with Jesus’ previous ministry, but these cameos are beautiful case-studies of his approach to discipleship.
Jesus extends invitation, and challenge. 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.
Jesus demonstrates that invitation and challenge, working together, are key to discipleship.
If we hold out invitation and challenge in equal measure, those we lead are empowered as disciples, to live as Jesus lived; to make disciples who can, in turn, make disciples.
If we hold out high challenge with low invitation – if we set out an agenda for change, but don’t open our lives as model – the result is that those we lead will, sooner or later, experience discouragement.
If we hold out high invitation with low challenge – the stereotypical caricature of a sympathetic but ineffectual pastor – the result is that those we lead will, sooner or later, settle into a cosy, defensive group. Note that in churches where there is high challenge with low invitation, those who feel discouraged but lack the motivation to leave are likely to create environments (such as fellowship groups) of high invitation and low challenge as a counter-balance: however, far from addressing the problem, this only compounds it.
If we hold out neither invitation nor challenge, the result is that those we lead will, sooner or later, experience boredom and settle into apathy.
Over the following four posts I will take a look at the invitations and challenges Jesus holds out to Mary Magdalene, the disciples, Thomas, and Simon Peter. These images make up, in effect, my Stations of the Resurrection.