Jesus engages people through invitation and challenge: extending grace and affirmation and access, and requiring change. We see this time and again in the Gospels, both with his closest disciples and with more passing encounters. Those who respond to Jesus respond to invitation and challenge (consider Zacchaeus, whom Jesus affirms in the face of being ostracised, and who makes a radical and costly turn-around) and the on-going process of invitation and challenge separates out those who want to follow Jesus from those who want Jesus to follow them (consider the crowds who fall away when he increases the challenge element).
Where invitation and challenge are both low, the defining characteristic of a relationship (between two persons, or within a community) is boredom.
Where invitation is high and challenge is low, the defining characteristic of a relationship is cosiness.
Where invitation is low and challenge is high, the defining characteristic of a relationship is stress/discouragement.
Where invitation and challenge are both high, the defining characteristic of a relationship is empowerment.
With this in mind, let’s revisit the ‘field of discipleship’ I suggested yesterday. Each quadrant is explored and mapped in increasing detail where we experience high invitation and challenge. (Boredom is unaware of its surroundings; cosiness, unconcerned with them; and stress, too agitated to appreciate them.)
Consider the ‘come, and be’ quadrant, where the question is, ‘who am I chosen to be with?’ For me, this question is answered in several ways. There is my life-long covenant relationship with my wife. Then there are our children: and while that is also a life-long relationship, I certainly don’t envisage that they will always live and move with us, so we might consider the present dynamic to be a long-term season. But I also have long-term and/or for-life relationships with a number of friends; and then there are shorter-term friendships and working relationships: those I am chosen to be with for now.
I think it would be fair to say that at times I have related to my wife with low invitation and high challenge, causing her stress; at other times, have retreated into high invitation, low challenge, resulting in a cosiness that does not empower her; or (and it is easy to slide from cosiness to this) with low invitation low challenge, resulting in boredom. But I trust that there are times when, through high invitation and high challenge on my part, she has been empowered to fulfil her God-given potential, to grow into the person she was created to be. To live habitually in that place requires a determination of the will, and a continuous pattern of repentance and belief.
When it comes to our children, I know that my natural tendency is to extend low invitation high challenge, causing them stress; and that I need to extend more invitation – find ways of spending time together, having fun – and step back from inappropriate challenge (they are children, not adults), while not abdicating appropriate challenge (without which it is not possible to move from immaturity to maturity). So often we expect parenting to be easy and find it overwhelmingly complicated, when the truth is that it is very simple and very, very hard.
Many of my working relationships and short-term relationships bore me – not because I want to be entertained, but because I want to be engaged – because the other person does not extend invitation (access to their lives) and challenge (leading me out of my comfort zone) or does not respond to my offers of invitation and challenge. On the other hand, responding to invitation and challenge is a key indicator of a Person of Peace – someone open to you, someone who responds to Jesus in you – and helpful in discerning which people to invest most in.
The same principles apply to the other quadrants: without high invitation high challenge, one will never discover and grow in what they are challenged to do, what they are given to contribute, or where they are invited to go together with others...