The Bengali people are on the shy side. They often won’t speak first, and they would generally prefer to stay in the background. Even if you are a hungry guest, it is considered only polite to refuse food the first couple of times someone offers it in their home. In my short experience here, I have found that they are actually easy to smile and easy to engage, but not so quick to respond to an invitation.
As in the United States, different churches here in Kolkata have different ways of inviting people to respond to the gospel. Some churches wish to allow people to respond by raising their hands during the invitation prayer… You know the one, right? “With every head bowed and every eye closed…”
Other churches prefer to have a “come to the front” style of invitation response. That’s the one where we “sing one more verse… You come.”
We are here in part to serve local churches, and support their ministries. So, when they asked me to use the “come to the front” invitation at the large church here this week, that is exactly what I did.
I was really curious to see how they would respond to someone asking them to step out by themselves and to stand in front of hundreds of other people, signaling a willingness to repent and surrender their life to Christ.
When the time came, I extended that invitation, with a pretty good response, but not exactly overwhelming. We prayed together, people surrendered their lives, and destinies were changed.
But I was surprised to see what happened next… After I was done, the youth pastor and pastor of the church extended another 20-minute long invitation after mine. Listening to the pastor’s prayer was powerful, and his passion for reaching this city for Christ was very evident.
Afterwards, the youth pastor coached me a little bit… He said that in India, we should always plan to give multiple, extended invitations. He said that since the Bengali people tend to be shy, they need a little coaxing to get them to respond.
I thought this made perfect sense in this culture. It seems that their strategy works, too, since they were able to get more to come to the front in response.
In recent years, I have resisted the long, extended invitation… I generally don’t do a “come to the front” myself, because I have definitely seen the privilege of inviting people to Christ abused in churches over the years. Scripture is clear that it is the Spirit and only the Spirit that draws people to Jesus, yet you and I have both witnessed pastors really work people’s emotions, sometimes bordering on manipulation. (Some even cross WAY over the line!)
I’ve been guilty of this in the past myself. As a youth pastor, I may have crossed that line on several occasions. One day I will have to answer for my works of the flesh masquerading as works of the Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that draws people to Christ, not emotionalism, and I will do my best to never to assume to do God’s job for Him. He can do just fine with or without me.
Yet, as I look into this culture, I can certainly see the need for a little extra “coaxing,” as the youth pastor described it. These people are a little shy, and may be hesitant to respond at first. The balance here may be difference than the balance at home. We should always be willing to make our casE for the gospel, and to do everything within our power to win people to Jesus, but we should always trust God enough to hold back from using manipulative tactics.
India, South America, Haiti, our schools, our workplace, our neighborhoods. Each has it’s own subculture, and we all communicate differently depending on where we find ourselves. God places us, and uses us. And He takes responsibility for the outcome.
What do you think? How can we best find that balance and be effective to win our world to Christ?