Last night, Jo and I spent the evening with a group of cell leaders, seeking to hear God speak to us. Our assumption is that God wants to speak to us, and that we can hear him – as Jesus put it, he is the good shepherd, who calls his sheep by name and leads them out, and his sheep follow him because they hear his voice (John 10). We also think that in learning to hear God’s voice, it is helpful to ask questions, the sort of questions that lay our lives open before God. So Jo and I offered the group 12 questions as a starting-point: to provide a framework for our conversation: the sort of questions that, drawing on our experience, we think God might want to speak to cell leaders – those responsible for discipling a few others – about: and we invited them to ask the Holy Spirit to catch their attention with one, or at most two.
The questions pertained to character (who I am; formable) and skills (what I do; learnable), and were grouped in relation to our relationship with God (UP); with each other, and in particular, in the context of cell leaders, those we lead (IN); and with our neighbours, those who live and work alongside us (OUT):
Do I pursue intimacy with God?
What is on my heart for intercession?
How easy do I find it to hear direction from God?
Do I love those I lead?
Is my family happy?
Am I sleeping/eating/resting well?
Am I inviting those I lead into my life, by making myself appropriately vulnerable?
Am I able to appropriately challenge those I lead?
Am I sharing my faith with others?
Do I make time for relationships with non-Christians?
Can I identify at least one person who is open to me and to the good news I have to share?
Is my group welcoming?
The conversation that followed took in various things – such as the way the two ‘Character UP’ questions feed each other – but focused on the ‘Skills IN’ questions: on learning to extend invitation and challenge: on why we find one or the other, or both, so hard (culture, both English culture and church culture, play a significant part; but often our reluctance to open our lives to people or our reluctance to challenge them appropriately, or patterns of unhelpful confrontation, are rooted in the ‘Character IN’ question, Do I love those I lead? – for we will extend little invitation or challenge to those we love little).
In fact, we all extend invitation into our lives to others: to friends, for example. But we sometimes see cell as more artificial, something separate to friendship. And as a starting point, it is: everyone on earth forms friendships; God is in the business of taking people as un-loveable as me and forming a new community. Over three years, Jesus shaped a diverse group including Matthew – a traitor who collected taxation for the puppet-king installed by Rome – and Simon – a freedom fighter who employed terrorist tactics – into friends: the starting-point, not to mention more than a few other moments along the way, was perhaps awkward. We need to get beyond the starting-point.
Challenge involves both encouraging people to discover something for themselves that you have discovered (Jesus does this with his disciples all the time: e.g. God is our provider, in practical ways, often by miraculous means); and loving someone enough to rebuke them when their words or actions are heading in a trajectory that, left unchecked, will only hurt themselves and those around them who they love (Jesus does this on occasion, when necessary: e.g. telling Peter that his perspective does not reflect God’s will, but satan’s agenda). When we see the word ‘challenge’ we may fail to connect to discovery (note: you can only invite/challenge someone to discover something you have already discovered for yourself); or shy away from discipline, until it is too late and what was a small weed has sent down a deep tap-root.
Invitation and challenge work best when they work together: when we share the thing God is teaching us, at an appropriate level, it draws the person we share it with into our life and challenges them to learn the same thing. We might even discover that they have already learnt more than we have, and we can learn from them.
For some, both invitation and challenge are hard, sometimes because we have experienced little invitation ourselves, or have had bad experiences of inappropriate confrontation (unjustified, or unbalanced). But for many of us, we have a natural preference for one or the other: we are known for welcoming people, but never help them to grow; or we are known for challenging people, relentlessly. It is worth growing aware of our tendencies; learning to spot when one needs to be balanced by the other; hearing God’s prompting to increase invitation (e.g. to someone who is hurting at present), or to embrace the discipline of challenge (note: sometimes people behave badly because they are hurting, and in such cases increasing challenge is like forcing someone with a broken leg to run, and faster; when what they need is invitation, the environment to heal).