Talking to a bright, shiny new ordinand the other day*, I listened as he told me all the wonderful things he’d been up to over the summer break. He’d spent a couple of weeks overseas working with Youth for Christ…. He’d visited his prospective parish and been welcomed during the Sunday services…He’d spent a long weekend at Greenbelt taking part in many worship events and engaging with interesting discussion sessions …. he’d met regularly with his ‘cell’ group and his only regret was that he hadn’t been able to organise a trip to Taizé. Blimey I thought, you’ve managed to pack a lot into your ‘leisure’ time, but I wonder how much time he’d spent just being ‘ordinary’
“If you spend too long in prison you can become institutionalised, and it can be difficult to make that leap of faith over the wall to freedom. This applies to being caught up in church culture too” Milton Jones ’10 Second Sermons’
Now this wasn’t meant to be a criticism, because dedicating your life to your faith is a noble and sacred thing, but our ministerial and social skills also need to be honed in the ‘real world’ as well. As Christians we can spend a lot of our time being reluctant and occasionally downright scared to talk about our faith with our ‘non-Christian’ friends and acquaintances for fear of being thought obsessive, fanatical and maybe even a little bit weird. We worry that we’ll suddenly become a pariah in the workplace or family.
So when opportunities come up to join together with like-minded people, we often jump at the chance to spend more and more time in their company. These are the type of people who will understand us, to whom we feel we can speak openly, whom we are sure will make us feel good.
Of course it’s vital that we do get together to learn and equip ourselves. It’s great to build each other up by sharing knowledge and wisdom, as it helps us become more able to share that with others; people who may be unaware of what makes us tick or who may be beginning to search for meaning in their lives… or asking what is it all about. In addition we also need to engage more with those who appear to have no intention of listening to our ‘news’ however good we present it. We even need to be prepared to engage with outright hostility
The great thing is that all these engagements can often be achieved without the need for words or at least very few words. One of the turning points in my faith journey was the conscious decision to speak openly about my faith to whoever asked. Note the ‘asked’ not ‘I’ll slip the Jesus word in whether it’s appropriate or not’. Not simply to pontificate on the state of their souls, but to say that actually last Sunday I was in church; to talk about the perceived ‘absurd’ politics of church organisations; to let people know the underlying reasons why I think what I do
‘Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words’ St Francis of Assisi
I’m pretty certain that I’ve never ‘converted’ anybody in my whole life…in fact I wouldn’t want to claim that at all. What I do hope I’ve done along the way is spoken honestly, acted compassionately and served humbly to enable others to catch a glimpse of why I believe what I believe and maybe then explore it for themselves – if not immediately then at some point in their lives.
Spending a lot of time practicing can make us an ‘expert’ in our subject, but it can also make us very one-dimensional. Of course I can choose to participate in lots of extra-curricular activities like roaring from the terraces of Twickenham, rocking at a Coldplay concert or simply going out for meals with ex-work colleagues. However, the simplest thing is to engage in ordinary conversation with whomever I happen to meet – about the weather; what they’re up to at the moment; what’s important to them right now. This exchange of information gives me an insight into other people’s lives and them an insight into mine
As part of bringing about God’s kingdom our task is to come alongside people – that is ALL people – not just that lovely group of fellow Christians who make us feel warm and fuzzy – but the ones who makes us feel prickly and uncomfortable too. Sometimes we just need to get out more!
*To my fellow trainees at Cuddesdon – he is not one of you!