Staying friends with sinners 2

2014-47.3

Matthew 5:29

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Your own Matthew party?

Snooker room ex Ronnie Woods

What a room for a party! This is ex-Rolling Stone Ronnie Woods’ former snooker room. The point is about gathering people around an activity – opulence not necessary.

 

THE Matthew party, according to Bill Hybels, was talked about so much in the early days of Willow Creek that it became part of the church’s culture.

As they thought about the various seekers they had contact with, and set about discerning what ‘next steps’ would look like for them, Matthew’s intuition in inviting his former friends seemed a good way to follow. People began throwing informal parties around the pool, or back garden barbecues, or other fun activities. They would invite a few people from the office and a handful from church and throw them together. Many came to faith as a result.

The wave of enthusiasm for this peaked and declined as all waves do, but Bill said that he and a few friends have never stopped seeking ways to gather together some old-life friends and some new-life friends.

One Christmas recently, he gathered about 20 people who by their own admission were living a long way from the kingdom; none had ever been to his house. Then he had a list of another 20 or so who were sporadic attenders, at best, trudging along a slow path to God, many of whom had been to his house before. Then he added to the invitation list about a dozen solid Christians from Willow – carefully screened, not overzealous but normal, mature, relationally intelligent and radically inclusive people who understood the stakes.

It was, in his words, some party, people staying until he called a halt at 2am. It was a 21st century take on Matthew’s first-century gathering. It had a real buzz.

What made it such a magical, edgy experience? The single greatest reason came down to the way the secure Christians, the minority, did exactly what Jesus wants of all of His followers – they took a walk across the room.

At the very beginning, they did what you might expect. They huddled together in safe little circles of their own friends and talked about the weather and the Christmas Eve stage set and all that kind of thing. But only for about 20 minutes or so… when one by one, they looked around the room and began excusing themselves from each others’ company, to go and introduce themselves to someone they didn’t know.

They didn’t know how it was going to turn out, whether the person they were heading for would want to talk or not. They were thinking, “I’m going to pray each step of the way as I walk across this room, I’m going to introduce myself, and then step back and just see if God does anything more.”

The discussions began to light up. As Bill had prayed about this in the day beforehand, he had thought of certain pairings and asked God: “Oh, if this person and that person could get together in conversation, that would be so kinetic – they have so much in common.” And as he wandered round, refilling drinks and offering food, he saw glimpses of these exact connections happening.

The Matthew Party is only one of many creative ways to get people together with a kingdom purpose. But the spread of the Gospel, in today’s world, boils down to whether you and I will find creative ways to engage our friends, explore with them the goodness and abundance of the Christ-centred life, and help them begin to choose eternity with God.

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