Developed from experience using the Invitation/Challenge tool described in Building a Discipling Culture by Mike Breen, which is available at 3DM.
You’ll find scripture references as you read.
Two values are essential for forming the kind of community environment we try to create for vibrant spiritual growth.
Invitation has to do with the sense of being included in the community, welcomed, and valued – not for what you can do but for who you are. It is about knowing and feeling you belong, that others love you and want you there, and ultimately that you are valued and claimed by God as his own.
Challenge has to do with being needed for the community, having a vital role to play in terms of achieving the overall goals and purposes.. It is about knowing that your contributions are valuable, important and necessary. Ultimately, it is about being involved in advancing God’s kingdom.
Jesus created an environment that was wonderfully invitational yet clearly challenging. To make sure we are on the same page, here are some statements of Jesus that reflect either invitation or challenge.
- Come to me all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest. (Invitation, Matthew 11:28)
- Let the dead bury the dead, but you go out and proclaim the kingdom of God. (Challenge, Luke 9:60)
- Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. (Invitation, Luke 1:16)
- Anyone who wants to be first must be last, and the servant of all. (Challenge, Mark 9:37)
- Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (Invitation, John 7:37)
- If anyone wants to be my disciple, they must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Challenge, Matthew 16:24)
Sometimes, Jesus used invitation and challenge in the same sentence.
- Jesus said, “Come and follow me…” (Invitation, Matthew 4:19a)
- “…and I will send you out to fish for people.” (Challenge, Matthew 4:19b)
- “The time has come. The kingdom of God is at hand…” (Invitation, Mark 1:15a )
- “…Therefore repent and believe the good news of the gospel.” (Challenge, Mark 1:15b)
Notice that in Jesus’ ministry, invitation generally precedes challenge. We live in a fallen creation. Everyone is hurt by sin. There are many hurting, isolated, lonely, frightened, insecure people. People are desperate for the invitation they find in Christ and want (and even expect) to find it in Christian community. But to create an inviting environment for one group of people creates a challenging environment for those offering it. If that situation persists, one group doesn’t grow—and the other group gets stressed out and burns out.
There needs to be a plan to lead someone new to the community from invitation into challenge, and to be help those who are feeling too much challenge to experience invitation.
Part of discipleship is learning to imitate Jesus by experiencing both and extending both. Therefore, we need both invitation and challenge if we are to create discipling communities. We lose a lot if we sacrifice one for the other. They are not opposites. The two go hand in hand.
It is about following Jesus. As Jesus welcomed, valued, served, and loved people, so must we. And as Jesus issued challenge to his disciples, so we must provide challenge because we have been given an unbelievably important roles to play in advancing His Kingdom.
Mike Breen puts these on a matrix – and this can be very helpful for shaping a ministry that helps people grow as disciples.
In thinking about how to apply this, I find it helpful to use a sports analogy and how a coach would use invitation and challenge to build a successful high school sports team.
Phase 1: Recruiting the team – This phase is High invitation – Low Challenge. The coach begins going places to meet students. Whenever he spots an athlete or potential player, he walks up and says, “You look like a ball player. I can see that uniform on you now. We’re having tryouts in two weeks. What do we need to do to get you there?” The goal of the coach at this point is to gather a crowd from which to build a team. He’ll appeal to teachers, meet with parents, arrange rides, whatever it takes to gather a team. Jesus recruited disciples. Most of the calling stories are highly invitational. Early in the Gospels, we see him inviting people into a new life with two phrases: 1) Come and see. (John 1:39) 2) Follow me (Mark 1:18).
Phase 2: Selecting the team: Try-outs – Low invitation. High Challenge. If you’ve ever been through try-outs, you know how stressful it can be. If fifty show up to try-out for twenty spots on the roster, thirty will be told, “Sorry, you don’t have what it takes to make this year’s team.” Ouch. To make the team, you must be up to the challenge. Now, it is very important to point out that Jesus didn’t hold try-outs. But he did select twelve disciples from among many disciples in order to invest intentionally in them. Others had been with him just as long (see Acts 1:21-23). Some people were probably disappointed. If you read Luke 9:57-63, you know that some must have felt excluded. Challenge is like that. Some leaders are unwilling to leave anyone out. They don’t want anyone to feel disappointed—but trying to invest in too many people results in ineffective discipleship. Also, consider the discipleship square—Let anyone who feels left out know that they will have an opportunity for discipleship soon.
Phase 3: Forming the team: The season begins – High invitation. High challenge. Once the team is selected, everyone is needed, everyone has a spot on the team, and everyone is important. If the coach is unable to get this across to the team, they won’t win many games. Anyone who follows sports know that teams with talented players can lose games if they don’t learn to operate as a team. Without a sense of challenge players won’t work hard on skills or try their best, and they are unlikely to sustain respect for one another. Without a sense of invitation, players will be reluctant to take chances or step up if it seems unsafe, and talented players on the team become self-serving. Both invitation and challenge are needed for the players to begin to be able to play together, encourage one another, trust one another, sacrifice for one another, and get better. Depending on circumstances, the coach uses more of one than the other—more challenge leading up to a big game, more invitation after set-backs. We see Jesus creating this kind of environment. He gave extra time to the twelve, worked with them, taught them privately, brought them along with him wherever he went, and sent them out as his representatives to do what (before hand) only Jesus had been able to do.
Our job as disciple makers and missional community leaders is to try to create this kind of environment at in disciple huddles and MC gatherings.
In MC gatherings, for example, when someone is new to the group, we want them to have a high invitation experience. But very quickly, we want them to know that we have work to do – so we calibrate in a little challenge by inviting first timers to help with the dishes after our meal if they are able. Oddly enough, that little bit of challenge helps people know they are valued and welcomed. Sharing prayer requests can be challenging. Learning to pray out loud with others is a challenge, too. It makes us feel vulnerable. But being prayed for an cared for – being in that highly invitational environment – is so encouraging and uplifting.
Discipleship Huddles involve both pretty much from the beginning. Every person is vital to the experience. Every person has to try and contribute if they are to grow. Participation isn’t optional. The leader will need to provide higher invitation as disciples go through D2. Higher challenge to help disciples turn the corners on the discipleship square. For leaders, it is important to learn to read the group and calibrate how much invitation and challenge to extend. For example, too much challenge when people are weary discourages. Too much invitation evaporates the sense of purpose and focus.
The experience of invitation and challenge in our meetings helps us when we go out to serve. Inevitably, going out puts us outside our comfort zone. It’s different for everyone, but here are a few hurdles we’ve struggled with: prayer walking, interacting with people from other cultures, delivering cookies, gathering food for a food pantry, going with our kids to an unfamiliar play ground, or talking with people about Jesus. As you read that, maybe you are thinking we’re a bunch of wimps! Well, if so, be encouraged and fear not -God will lead you into the challenge he has in mind for you! In those times, we get strength and help from one another to try. And we learn and grow when we try new things.
Questions for reflection:
1) Do you have experiences in each of the quadrants? This could be in any team or in an organization, not necessarily in a church or Bible study. What was it like? Can you think of great organizations that get invitation-challenge right? Can you share insights?
2) What are some of the temptations the leaders face in each quadrant?
3) How would you assess where a team is and what would you do about it?
4) If you get to the Discipleship Quadrant, how could you stay there? What would work against staying there?
5) What would your own tendency be—to offer too much invitation or too much challenge? How would offering too much of either feel for you as a leader?
6) Is God saying anything? What will you do about it?