October 20, 2017

Meeting Jesus Through Community?

1100px-1DundasI am involved in a number of different communities. Some are communities of faith, but most are not. Now, this may sound like a cop out, but my primary way of introducing people to Jesus has been to introduce those in my non faith communities to my faith communities.

Let me introduce you to first to my non faith communities:

1. My neighborhood. We used to have a reasonably social neighborhood. Typically there would be 1 or 2 block parties a year, at either Christmas or during the summer. The two sets of organizers moved away, and for the past ten years there really hasn’t been any group social functions. In my area of Canada it only seems to be the summer time when you get a chance to interact with your neighbors. Case in point, my next door neighbor recently met the lady who lives diagonally across from me. They had been living in their houses for 25 and 50 years respectively. Their is probably only one family we know well enough in our immediate neighborhood to invite to join in with one of our faith communities.

2. Our kids’ school communities. We moved into our neighborhood when our eldest was less than a year old (he is about to turn 20). It was not until he started school that we started forming relationships within our larger community (see #1). Often the friends we made live several blocks away. We would not have met them had it not been for the school community. While I am not as involved in the school community as I used to be, many of the relationships remain. Three families from our school communities have attended our church as a result of our interaction with them. Four two of these families is was a one time only visit.

3. My daughter’s cycling community. My daughter has been racing competitively for nearly two years. In that time I have gotten to know many of the other parents. Some of them quite well. Now when we go to cycling events many of us eat a communal meal. We are friends on facebook and there is much encouragement that goes on. In fact, we have become friends with parents of riders from other teams as well. One of the parents from our team has invited us to a barbecue tomorrow (more on this later). It is in this group of people that I see the most potential for making spiritual connections. They are the sort of people that I think Jesus would like to hang out with. They like to drink and party and have a good time. They are also open to discussions about faith. Having gotten to know me over two years they know that I am not some kind of religious nut job. I just can’t imagine inviting them to church. They wouldn’t fit it. They wouldn’t feel comfortable. They wouldn’t be back.

4. My work community. My current work position is quite different from my previous one. In my previous position at a marketing company, only about 5% of the company attended church. In my current position in a software development company the number is about 50%. In my current position however I am a manager and as such I feel a lot less free to talk about matters of faith. The questions do come, and I am happy to answer them when they arrive. Sometimes those questions have led to others become followers of Christ, but I have always played a minor role in the process.

5. My facebook community. Facebook has been really good with helping me reconnect with old friends, and helped me make some new ones. Many of my friends have extreme views (both left and right), but I try to be pretty moderate with my comments. I don’t link from facebook to Internet Monk, as I know that what I write hear will upset many of my friends, both left and right. While I don’t say much about matters of faith on facebook, I have gotten into a few discussions when incorrect information about Christianity is being disseminated.

Moving on to the faith communities:

6. Internet Monk. Many of my Christian associates do not understand Internet Monk. They fail to realize that it is primarily of those who have tried evangelicalism and found it wanting. They fail to realize that while Internet Monk rejects much of evangelicalism, we are seekers after Jesus. We know that through Internet Monk some have come to Christ, others have returned to Christ, and still others have been strengthened and encouraged in their faith. Michael Spencer focused on a “Jesus Shaped Spirituality”, one that cut away at the cultural baggage being currently associated with Christianity. There are certain non Christian friends who, while not being able to appreciate the whole of Internet Monk, would be interested in several of the articles that have been written here. Michael Spencer’s devotional commentary on Mark is being edited in such a way that it will encourage others to “Reconsider Jesus.”

7. My small group. I lead a small group. We have about 13 adults involved, all at various stages in their spiritual walk. We share a meal and do a bible study every two weeks. Our prayer times are special as we do certainly care for each other. One of our members came to faith in Christ relatively recently and was baptized about a year ago. We have potential, but at the same time I think it is hard for non Christians to join in with us. Much of that focuses around material selection and finding resources for small groups that is appropriate for both new and established believers.

8. My church. There is a lot I like about my church. The leadership definitely has the desire to reach out to our larger community. Howver, in doing so the church has paradoxically developed an us versus them mentallity when it comes to interacting with non christians. Couple that with having almost no social interaction with church members outside of small group, and I have reached the point where I am no longer comfortable inviting outsiders into my church community.

So really, I am a bit stuck. I don’t have a great landing place for those in my non faith communities who might want to consider exploring Christianity and who Jesus was. I don’t have a faith community that I think I could plug them into. This is something that I will want to be thinking about over the next few months to see what kind of direction that will take.

How about you? Have you had similar experiences in the interaction between your communities? How comfortable are you inviting your non faith communities into your faith communities? What issues or barriers do you face? As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Comments

  1. Your comments about your church are interesting. In a James Davison Hunter vein I would describe your church as conservative., because of the us vs. them mentality. Hunter does not use that terminology, but describes in detail how their foundations get to postures like that. He maintains all types of Christians want to engage the world faithfully, but that the conservative, progressive, and Anabaptist paradigms of engagement are equally problematic, Needless to say that Hunter’s alternative seems the authentic way of interaction this post is discussing to this commenter. He takes 343 pages to unravel it all, I can’t begin to paraphrase, but am deeply affected and still processing.

  2. Richard Hershberger says:

    “Now, this may sound like a cop out, but my primary way of introducing people to Jesus has been to introduce those in my non faith communities to my faith communities.”

    I don’t understand why this might seem like a cop out. Sharing one’s faith ought not–and certainly need not–be an awkward social interaction for both parties. But for it not to be, there needs to be an underlying mutual regard. To wit:

    “Having gotten to know me over two years they know that I am not some kind of religious nut job.”

    The local megachurch sends its people around town periodically. Once or twice a year I get the knock on my door. This is terrible on many levels. First off, even if I wanted to engage with these people, I probably don’t want to engage at the particular moment they happen to knock, as I am refereeing my daughters to prevent sororicide or am in the middle of cooking dinner or was just heading to the bathroom or whatever. Even were I potentially looking for a church, these strangers knocking on my door aren’t ones I can sit down with and discuss what their church is like. And finally, there is the insulting implication that I need their church: not that I need church, but I need *their* church. I have no problem with the ones who ask if I have a church home, and when I tell them I do they back off. But the ones who keep pressing, knowing nothing about me or my church, are saying (perhaps without meaning to, but then again perhaps on purpose) that their church is better–more Christian–than any other church could possibly be, so I should leave my church and come to their church. My mental response to this is not fit for a family blog.

    Fred Clark repeatedly makes the point that evangelism should be an invitation: an inherently social act. What those people going door to door are doing is not inviting. It is marketing.

    I am pretty sure that I wouldn’t fit in at Mike Bell’s church. The hint that the group that has a few drinks with dinner wouldn’t fit in tells me that, apart from anything else. But I would be a whole lot more open to the discussion with someone I knew, and shared meals and drinks with, than some random stranger trying to sell me a product.

    My point is that sharing your faith with people who know you, and are open to the discussion, rather than forcing awkward, counter-productive pseudo-social interactions, is not a cop out. It is evangelism. Evangelism need not and should not be a painful experience all around.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      The local megachurch sends its people around town periodically. Once or twice a year I get the knock on my door.

      Similar here, except it’s the Jehovah’s Witnesses instead of the local megachurch.

      • I loved the comedian who said he had no problem with Jehovah’s Witnesses — he just invites them in and sells them Amway.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Years ago, I heard of a guy who somehow ended up on the mailing lists for both Scientology and Jehovah’s Witnesses and was getting swamped in junk mail. He solved the problem with a little change-of-address two-step: He forwarded all the Jehovah’s Witness mail to the Scientology Org and all the Scientology mail to the Kingdom Hall. It’s their problem now.

          • Faulty O-Ring says:

            Your friend is a Suppressive Person who will by no means be allowed to dwell in God’s Paradise on Earth.

          • Then there was the Unitarian who got mixed up with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and went around knocking on doors for no good reason.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Sure he wasn’t using it as an excuse to play Ding Dong Ditch?

        • There was an amusing episode of Black Books (a British comedy show- not sure if it ever made it to the States at all) in which the titular bookshop owner is trying to do his taxes and is so desperate for an interruption or distraction that, when some JWs call, he invites them in, eliciting shock and confusion from them since this has never happened before. Whereupon, after an awkward silence, and despite being non-religious himself, he begins to tell them Bible stories because their training had not extended to this eventuality and they’re not quite sure how to proceed.

      • In my neighborhood it’s the Mormons who pay periodic visits.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          After reading some online memoirs, I’ve got a soft spot for Mormon Mishies. Away from home for the first time and trunky, stuck for two years with an assigned partner and big “sales quota” to meet, living on mac-and-skazz, and doing weird stuff to cope.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      “I don’t understand why this might seem like a cop out. Sharing one’s faith ought not–and certainly need not–be an awkward social interaction for both parties. But for it not to be, there needs to be an underlying mutual regard.”

      THIS. If it is awkward it is not going to be effective. And what does it mean to be “religious” in any real sense without community? Then it is just ideology. I don’t believe this is “cop out”, it is “of course!”

      “The local megachurch sends its people around town periodically. Once or twice a year I get the knock on my door. This is terrible on many levels.”

      THIS, again. Worst idea ever. If you are a stranger knocking on my door you need to have a real reason for doing so. This used to happen, before pervasive cell phones – someones car broke down, someone was lost, etc… It never happens anymore.

      “But I would be a whole lot more open to the discussion with someone I knew, and shared meals and drinks with, than some random stranger trying to sell me a product.”

      THIS, again. Probably that is the ONLY person I am open to for that type of discussion, face to face. Why would a total stranger want to discuss those things with me? That is the definition of “Crazy Person”.

      • I like your take on things. I guess I’m a crazy person. I go to a mountain every night to feed cats I met there while prayer walking it. I walk to the top of that mountain to yell at God sometimes as loud as I can. Sometimes, to sing songs of praise or just tell Him I love Him. I’ve always been a little crazy and sometimes as I look around I wonder who isn’t especially in my neighborhood where I know so many people. I have knocked on doors here in the city in which I live. It is a hard thing to do even when you are getting use to it. We were promoting an outreach that gives away non food items to help the poor and were spreading the news and using that as maybe an opportunity to pray with people. We canvassed the neighborhood twice that year. Only a few of us so it took awhile one saturday afternoon a week. The outreach grew from 80 families being served to over 200. I had to leave it mostly because one of the fellows leading had the need to exaggerate all the time in testimony about what God was doing especially in the healing department. He had an overwhelming need to have testimonies and publicize them and having witness how he browbeat till people would say what he wanted to hear it became to much for me. I have to say though despite this I did see God work in many ways and I have to say it was filling to me to be involved and since stopping there has been a huge hole in my life. Now the ministry I was financially still supporting with the non food items has taken on a school with a person that just isn’t real stable under its umbrella and now I’m not sure whether I should continue that. Mostly what I found was people come out for all different reasons. Mostly I just wanted to see what God was doing. I witness when the opportunity arises no matter where I am. Sometimes this isn’t so advantageous especially in the professional realm but oh well. I wear my feelings on my sleeve and what you see is what you get. Of course I mess up and people see that and I have to tell them that is why I need Him so badly. One time as I wanted to knock someone out because of the jerk he was being I said to him I’m a Christ fearing man and if you are too you need to pray for me right now. We got to pray, go figure. I’m in construction and sometimes things can get a little rough. Still all in all I’m still a crazy person in ways and I’m not sure I so want that to change because when I hear something I have a tendency to go for it. I get to witness at the gym, work, grocery stores, with the young men anywhere and even on the mountain where I walk. One of the first men in my life never talked about God ever. He never got mad and always seemed on an even keel even when he should of got mad as hell. I was young and one day I asked him if he went to church and he said yes. I asked him if he would mind if I came along. He said I could. Tom witnessed without ever saying a word. I am not Tom because Tom was a man of very few words. I don’t always say a lot but when I do I can be heard.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          “We were promoting an outreach that gives away non food items”

          Those people come, I have no problem with that. I give them stuff to take. That is more of a reason than just to sales-pitch me out-of-the-blue when you have no idea who I am.

    • Back in the day when I occasionally tagged along for door-to-door evangelism, we would run into Catholics. They had an interesting way of dealing with Protestants. They would say, “No, thank you, we’re Catholic,” and politely close the door.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        I experienced exactly that doing door-to-door during my Evangelical years.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          I think I told this story previously, but what the heck… Early this summer the local megachurch was sending its kids to do the rounds pitching Vacation Bible School. I told them that my kids had already been this year. They asked where, asking if it had been the competing megachurch wannabe. I said no, it had been at St. Johns, the local Catholic church. Their eyes got wide and they backed away rapidly. I found this fascinating. Evangelicals and Catholics tend to be allies in the Culture Wars, but I think that this has merely pushed the old anti-Catholicism under the surface. As the Culture Wars wind down I expect that anti-Catholicism will see a resurgence. This will be especially true as the American Catholic church becomes more Hispanic, Nativism has always been a big part of anti-Catholicism, and nativism is going as strong as ever.

    • cermak_rd says:

      I like the occasional sign I’ve seen of missionaries will be sacrificed and eaten.

      • I’ve always thought of answering the door and saying, “Oh, no, I’m a Satanist. Hey, do you know how to clean blood out of a rug?”

        Then I remember that people still believe Mike Warnke, and I think better of it,

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          The various fandoms are full of stories like that on how to scambait door-to-door witnessing types.

          Others include preaching some fictional faith (like “The Force”) back to them, faking being a serial killer as well as a human-sacrifice cultist. Cthulhu is a favorite.

        • Extra points, Danielle, if you say that holding your ax.

          Reminds me of a Black Adder sketch a long time ago. A prisoner in the torture chamber was playing charades with his mute jailkeeper, trying to guess what kind of a rusty farm implement the jailer was going to disembowel him with.

          The prisoner must have been as desperate for company as the JWs. The jailer finally won the game but his victim was delighted just the same. Punch line: “Oh—it’s a scythe!”

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        I used to have a Dogo Argentino; monstrous looking thing, and had a scare on his face on top of that. He was always there with me to greet anyone at the door. I could just silently point to him and he would tense and rumble like a big diesel engine. The person at the door always went away – without me having to say a word.

        Fortunately they were quick about it and didn’t notice he was wagging his tail, as he knew it was a game. If they’d done anything aggressive he would have bolted for the bathroom and hid in the shower stall; that is what he did if someone outside started honking their horn. I miss that guy. A monster who made the cowardly lion look brave.

    • “Sharing one’s faith ought not–and certainly need not–be an awkward social interaction for both parties. But for it not to be, there needs to be an underlying mutual regard.”

      ^THIS.

      When all the conversation participants have some reason for standing in a space, when they are having normal human conversations, and there is a visible community into which the stranger is being invited, the meaning of the gospel is much clearer. Here, the word, the community, and the person are related to each other. I regard you, and you see me.

      Neighborhood canvassing or stopping people on the street seems superior only if you think about the gospel in terms of delivering a canned message to as many interchangeable people as possible. It’s not about specific individuals, or community, its just about the Message–and keeping someone’s attention long enough to deliver the payload. It’s almost as if I don’t care about you at all:

      “Hi, I know I am being super annoying right now, and have no respect for your boundaries or time, and that I do not know you and have no reason of any kind for being here, but I’m adherent for a Crazy Religion that requires me to regularly act clueless about social rules, and like I care more about my Message than you (you pagan, you!). So, wanna join up? See this flier I have here? It, too, can be yours!”

      People respond to this strategy, and I’m not going to say it should never be used. But it certainly produces a lot of white noise. The “cop out” solution is closer to the real deal, and it is always preferable.

    • What those people going door to door are doing is not inviting. It is marketing.

      Bingo! It’s the telemarketer with the personal touch. Spare me. Yes it works, if 1 visit of 1000 nets a convert, this would explain why LDS and SBC are so dogmatically committed to this methodology: it’s all about results.

      I would be a whole lot more open to the discussion with someone I knew, and shared meals and drinks with

      I think you’re on to something very important here: Sharing meals. How can you share the Lord’s table with somebody with whom you won’t even share your own table? I’m just saying that eating together is a very important relationship builder around which conversations of religion can much more safely happen. I know the cliche “never talk about religion or politics at dinner,” but anybody with a pinch of social sensitivity can figure out how to do at least one of those in a congenial manner. (hint: the more questions you ask about their views, the smaller chance you have for inserting foot in mouth, and the greater chance they might actually become curious for your thoughts.)

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        “Yes it works, if 1 visit of 1000 nets a convert…”

        It just struck me that this the same strategy as used by that guy who walks up to every woman he sees and asks “Wanna f–k?”

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          That means the Canned Witnessing Spiel is the equivalent of a Bad Pickup Line?

          (And I’ve heard and heard of some BAD Pickup Lines…)

          • Ah, but no doubt you’ve also heard some bad Canned Witnessing Spiels.

            It may be a draw!

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            From that guy’s perspective, it is a perfectly good pickup line. Yes, the rejection rate is going to be high, but that guy is OK with being rejected. He cares only about the occasional payoff. He cares about the success rate over time, not the success rate per attempt. Hence the practice of asking every woman he meets.

            As a point of information, I knew a guy in college who followed this strategy. He swore by it, claiming that it resulted in frequent sex with a variety of partners. Even in my libidinous college days I was pretty sure that he was getting a lot of bad sex, but he clearly was a quantity rather than quality sort of guy.

          • Faulty O-Ring says:

            I would think it would be less a matter of “bad sex” than of “partners with deep-seated personal problems.”

          • I’m with F O-R. Also, sex as mere entertainment or recreation is, I’m guessing on principle, always bad sex. Dehumanizing and depersonalizing another person to the utility of tissue paper isn’t what I’d consider a fulfilling experience, and the solution is not better technique.

            So much of what passes for spirituality and evangelism is nothing more than the religious equivalent bad sex if wee approach potential converts as targets and pitch God as a means to an end. We don’t need a more compelling presentation or gimmick for maintaining attention. We just need to serve and love our neighbors because we fear God and care about them. That’s what Jesus did.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            I would think it would be less a matter of “bad sex” than of “partners with deep-seated personal problems.”

            Though he might have seen this as a feature instead of a bug. (At least until the first Stalker type imprinted on him.) Crazies have an urban-legend reputation for being REAL dynamite in the sack, and Teh Crazier they are, the more barn-burning they are.

        • Richard – you do realize that the “pickup line” is actually very open sexual harassment, no?

          If someone did that at work, they could easily be fired for it; when men say things like that to women, it’s no joke. An awful lot of us out here IRL have been, at very least, intimidated and/or assaulted by guys who say things just.like.that.

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            I did not mean to suggest that I advocate or condone this behavior, or don’t find the person engaging in it pathetic.

          • Richard, I got that. Just trying to emphasize that calling it a “pickup line” downplays the reality of what it actually is.

            Anyone who has ever been harassed will get that, I’m sure.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            People. Do. Stupid. Things.

            (Just search YouTube for “epic fail” or “airbag fail” sometime.)

  3. My work community consists of professional geologists, scientists, and engineers. Although they are willing to talk about spiritual matters and in particular, Jesus; the YEC uber alles attitude of many evangelicals is a definite turnoff. If they think they have to buy into a 6000 year old earth they will simply never come to my, or any other evangelical church. This was one of the major impetus for me to design and teach a Science and the Bible small group class. I think there has been a sea change in attitude in my church; many now will at least accept one can have a different viewpoint on these issues and still be a Jesus-follower.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      ” This was one of the major impetus for me to design and teach a Science and the Bible small group class”

      And thank you for this contribution. This anti-science meme and many of the attitudes that seem to come defacto along with it will keep most of the people I know from stepping foot in most churches. It is very hard to respect someone [and their community]] when they repetitively insistently say really ignorant things that are clearly far beyond their brief.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        This anti-science meme and many of the attitudes that seem to come defacto along with it will keep most of the people I know from stepping foot in most churches. It is very hard to respect someone [and their community]] when they repetitively insistently say really ignorant things that are clearly far beyond their brief.

        St Augustine said the same thing some 1600 years ago.

  4. “… my primary way of introducing people to Jesus has been to introduce those in my non faith communities to my faith communities.”

    Can’t you just be friends with the people in your non-faith communities? Why do you feel you’ve gotta introduce them to Jesus? I know about the Great Commission and all, but people who are eager to “share the Gospel” with others make me cringe. Let unbelievers come, don’t force your hand.

    “The questions do come, and I am happy to answer them when they arrive.”

    Why don’t you just keep welcoming and answering them? If anyone gets so interested as to ask about your church, then you might invite them to attend, or suggest a more suitable alternative.

    Sorry if my tone seems harsh, but it seems to me you’re putting an unnecessary burden on yourself. Be a good friend, and trust the Holy Spirit.

    Rafael

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Can’t you just be friends with the people in your non-faith communities? Why do you feel you’ve gotta introduce them to Jesus? I know about the Great Commission and all, but people who are eager to “share the Gospel” with others make me cringe.

      They’re Amway with Fire Insurance instead of soap.

      Like a sexual predator making friends with someone just to get in their pants.

    • It can’t be always wrong to make a bold move to bring up religion or extend an invitation to a religious event. But it should be done selectively. Ask yourself, “If this person extended a similar offer to me, would he seem like a Mormon?”

      • Faulty O-Ring says:

        At least the Mormons are well trained, polite to a fault, and clearly identifiable.

        • For now. I expect them to diversify their game in the near future as they try to break free from their cultic stereotype and market themselves as a less judgmental alternative to the Southern Baptists. You will soon see missionaries “contextualizing” more, knocking on your door in more casual attire, just as soon as the head honchos figure out that it’s more likely to facilitate a productive conversation.

          Also, as American Teetotalism begins to wind down and plummet in popularity, expect a new prophetic revelation about the moral neutrality of alcoholic beverages. It’s a “wet finger to the wind” religion if there ever was one.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:
  5. Did Jesus ever market Himself? As I recall, He threw the market out of the Temple.

    We, who claim to belong to Him, are walking temples of the Holy Spirit. As such we take the presence of Jesus with us wherever we go within our faith and non-faith communities. Whether His presence in us is recognizable to others is another matter . . .

    My gripe is with those who think that they have to bring their friends into the church house to hear the gospel. “We can’t invite the Smiths this week because Pastor Mike is on vacation and Pastor Joe just isn’t as good.” Really? What is the color of this theology? And how is this being obedient to the great commission to “GO”?

    And yet, although we are to go into the world and make disciples, I suspect that more often than not, many end up in the marketing end of the spectrum. It is this approach which tars evangelism for many.

    I believe we have a responsibility to cultivate a relationship first. If we are to teach others to observe all that Jesus commands US, they need to see that lived out before them in action as well as in what we speak.

    Lastly, when we hand off the Gospel to the preacher or the Sunday School teacher, I believe we deny ourselves the joy that comes from an opportunity to play a role in what God is doing in the lives of others. This prompts other questions. Do we trust God enough to use us? Are we willing to leave the outcome to God even when we can’t see any evidence of His hand at work?

    • I agree Trish. There is a lot of room between my original post and “going door to door.” That is why I used the “cop out” terminology.

    • What is the color of this theology?

      Mauve, with a hint of beige. 😛

      But more seriously, this doesn’t have to be either/or. Being the friend that constantly harps on religion to obtain a conversion probably makes less progress than it looses. On the other hand, being a good friend involves honesty, even in religious matters, even when there’s disagreement. Tact is the most important thing here. Sometimes this will involve a simple invitation, sometimes it will involve a direct conversation, but sometimes its better for them to bring it up. How to know when for which is a challenge. But we have to remember, we don’t invite them to church to be impressed with the speaker any more than we become their friend to impress them with our moral behavior or clever intellect. Jesus can meet them just as easily through a boring presentation and a less than spectacular friend.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        Mauve has more RAM!

        > but sometimes its better for them to bring it up

        Yep. Generally that is the only way for it not to be confrontational.

        • Right. And I would add that confrontational is not always bad, but you spend a good deal of relational currency when you do. You’d better have it in the bank.

  6. It’s interesting that people who work in software development have such high numbers, makes me proud to be in this business!

    • …and not surprising that people in marketing are so non-religious. :O

    • This really surprises me. Of all the circles in which I travel, the programmers seem to be the most skeptical/outright atheist. Then again, I know a lot of open source folks, which are kind of a unique subset.

      I can’t speak to marketers. It occurs to me that I know very few business school types.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        This may be regional. I know a lot of “religious” Open Source people, and some “religious” IT people. But it is a group that tends towards the extremes. There are the Religious ones and the Atheist ones, and within the Religious ones is a strong strand of Ayn Rand Libertarianism. But Randianism has a strong presence in this region generally – I blame the air blowing over the lake from Wisconsin.

        It is noticeably becoming more banal-secular as we are currently getting a *lot* of immigrants from Chicago and the bay [San Franscisco, etc..]. This is generating a lot of color in local affairs, it is fun to watch it play out.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          “within the Religious ones is a strong strand of Ayn Rand Libertarianism”

          which is odd, considering Rand’s prominently and unambiguously expressed position on Christianity…

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            Indeed. But one should not have a high expectation for coherence in some categories of people, particularly ones whose ideology has a minor key of fear constantly playing in the background.

  7. Great article, as usual, Mike. Hard to find something to argue with!

    You did, however, leave out the most important faith community in your life: Your family! When you can’t invite people from one circle to your church, e-church, or small group, you can invite them into your home.

    A couple of thoughts I found very compelling:

    my primary way of introducing people to Jesus has been to introduce those in my non faith communities to my faith communities.

    Sometimes I wonder if our churches would be bursting at the seams if more of us would simply do this. Keep one foot in the church, and one in the world, and serve to bridge the gap. I think this is brilliant, AND it emphasizes the importance of Christians being actively involved in secular community. If the church is taking up all your time (as, unfortunately, in my case currently), you’re doing it wrong.

    I am no longer comfortable inviting outsiders into my church community.

    As are most, I would imagine. Hence why so few do it. I think it’s time for our congregations to do a very simple survey with two basic questions: Would you feel comfortable inviting non-Christian friends to attend church services or functions, and if no, why not? This could be a very revealing and practically insightful source of information on why so many of our churches are plateaued or declining. I have a hunch that certain quirks of the Evangelical subculture that we love so much we might actually be embarrassed of around outsiders. The “us vs. them” mentality you referred to, which is very common, is likely one of them. “Outreach uber alles” often leads there, and can potentially alienate visitors by making them feel like targets. I would say that very pietistic and “Jesus is my boyfriend” type of songs is another alienator, especially to those with no background in Christianity. Robust doctrinal hymnody is, ironically, more up front on what the faith is really about.

    Right now, I would not invite any friends to my church either, simply because I hardly ever see anybody who does’t attend, and when I do, it isn’t often enough to build the kind of relationships I feel would facilitate a successful invitation. I would also hesitate to invite a Democrat to our church, and you can guess why.

    Of course, as the music director, I could always invite people to rehearse with the choir. They couldn’t possibly see an ulterior motive for me with that one. 😛

    • “I would also hesitate to invite a Democrat to our church, and you can guess why.”

      I love the fact that our church is about 50-50 (roughly) percentage of Dems. and Repubs..

      That is because our pastor NEVER preaches political gospels. If he does bring up politics, it is for the purpose of putting a pox on both their houses.

      We, as Christians, are free to engage in whatever political party or causes that we want to take up.

      That’s freedom.

  8. Mike, regarding your last point – what’s keeping you there? It sounds like it’s not a good place for you, or anyone else, for that matter.

    Places like that tend to collapse in on themselves, much like black holes. Get past that event horizon while you still can!

    • …I was kind of thinking the same thing. If I was a lay person free to leave, I would never waste any time with a church I felt like I couldn’t invite friends to. I worked for one for several years, and it was miserable as hell.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        This is harder to call when you have diverse sets of friends and some of those sets do not overlap peaceably in either direction.

        • The Us vs. Them mentality that Mike cited is a dead giveaway as to the real nature of the problem, Adam.

    • This gets back to the “case study” article a few days ago, “What’s a parishioner to do?” I don’t think everyone who runs into this kind of thing should just jump to another church. A person can choose stay and try to be a healthy influence in the midst of unhealthiness. A person can choose to stay and see what God might be doing in the midst of some unhealthiness. And if it’s a community, there are friends and families to think about. Sometimes I think it’s an American cultural thing to jump ship.

      I’m in a church that for YEARS we never invited anyone to. We were tempted several times to bail out and leave, like many friends were doing. I mean, really…why stay at a church you wouldn’t invite someone to??? But we just felt called to stay, to see what God was up to, to remain with the good friends who were still there, and to attempt to be a part of influencing change and “healthiness.”

      It wasn’t easy. There was a lot of prayer (continually!) and angst. But we’re glad we stayed. The church is a lot healthier today, and I wouldn’t hesitate at all to invite someone to it now.

      It’s not an easy decision. The question is, do you think God has a plan for the church or not?

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > Sometimes I think it’s an American cultural thing to jump ship.

        Agree, it is a corollary of American “SilverBulletism”; the desire to find the perfect place, the one answer to every question, the one solution to all problems, and the one shoe that fits everyone, the cure for Cancer [all kinds of cancer – one cure!]. And whatever it is preferably it will fit on a bumper sticker. Unconsciously we are programmed to believe this exists, we are unsatisfied when things are complicated, untidy, and paradoxical… although in reality it always is.

        However if ones values do not correspond to those of the community – then one should “jump ship”, sooner rather than later, IMO.

        • Trust me, it’s not what you’re assuming re. leaving a sinking ship. Please see my replies to Mike and Miguel, just below.

    • Numo,

      There are a lot of positive qualities about the church. In my area there is really a lack of reasonable alternatives. This has not be a long term discomfort, but for the last couple of years the church leadership has been heading one direction and I have been heading another.

      • Mike, it still sounds to me like it’s time to start exploring other options. As a US person who somehow ended up on the immediate sidelines of the Culture Wars, I have to tell you that I’ve yet to see *any* church recover once it’s taken the “my way or the highway” stance.

        Usually a lot of people end up leaving when that happens, albeit over a period of time and in a very discreet way. Things go on as if said folks had never existed *or* said folks are referred to as “lost” (or some very similar description).

        I suspect your days as part of this congregation are numbered. Been there, done that – although in my case, they literally kicked me out before I could leave. I would hate to see anyone else approach that level of pain and crisis.

        • It is quite remarkable how similar your observations are to my experience.

          • Miguel, I think we have LOTS of company on this road. Kind of amusing that I ended up reverting to Lutheranism, but I feel good w/most doctrine and it seems like a *much* saner way to live. (Ironically – or maybe not so much – I had strong Lutheran tendencies/ideas/beliefs for the entire time that I was in voluntary exile in evangelical/charismatic land, but I quickly learned to keep my mouth shut as a matter of self-preservation.)

            Looking back, I can see that Every Single Group I was *ever* in was heavily tainted by the shepherding movement with other weird, cultic ways of thinking mixed in. I’ve needed a decade to detox from it all, and still have some friends who are so deep into extremely cult-like, abusive authoritarian churches that they just don’t truly see how bad things are. Interesting thing: one of those folks had a very clear-eyed view of what I was going through in the church that booted me, and was extremely supportive and insightful. I hope someone they trust will be able to do the same for them when the time comes.

  9. In deciding whether and where to affiliate with a particular congregation, I find the accepted dictum that a Christian MUST find a local church to attend much too confining. Did Jesus regularly go to church?

    One of my alternate solutions was simply not go to church regularly for twenty years. Looking back from a position of once again throwing my hat in the ring with a particular congregation, I do not think I was harmed by the hiatus, and in fact I believe I may have grown in spirit more during that period than I would have forcing myself to attend a church service as duty. This is entirely personal and individual. I would not recommend this for anyone, merely point out that it is an option.

    It is not entirely so that I was without Christian fellowship for all that time. I have been coming here for something like five years at a guess, and I consider this place a church fully as much as any other, and in some ways more so. There were a few Christian friends, also unchurched and dissatisfied but seeking Truth. And there was a multitude of books and online writing. If, as I believe, the ultimate point is to grow to your fullest spiritual potential, books and writing can serve well, perhaps better. With discretion and discernment, you can find the best teachers available with no time or space limitations.

    I do not speak of intellectual growth, tho the intellect is a valuable and necessary tool. The advantage a physical, local church has over books and online fellowship is presenting you with people that you may not like, may actively dislike, and that you are required to love. That probably fosters more spiritual growth and understanding than most books. I work my way thru all this following Spirit, but I realize this is not a realistic option for some.

    • Did Jesus regularly go to church?

      He was an observant first century Jew. You can bet your buttocks he did. Quite often he was even the guest speaker. It’s not about what the Christian must do. It’s about why the Christian does. When you understand the purpose of the Christian assembly, it’s hard not to want to be there.

      I believe I may have grown in spirit more during that period than I would have forcing myself to attend a church service as duty.

      You may quite possibly be right. However, this may not necessarily be a reflection on the un-necessity of congregational worship as it is a reflection on the toxicity of your prior situation. Just a thought.

      the ultimate point is to grow to your fullest spiritual potential, books and writing can serve well, perhaps better.

      Indeed, they can. Big if. I find that ultimate goal to be quite terrifying. I’m not that into banging my head against a wall. My best efforts to make myself more spiritual have always had a negative net effect. I need something more than insight and practical steps.

      A man by himself is never a viable means of serious discipleship. With the resources you referred to, you were certainly not alone in your journey, but receiving much guidance along the way. But ideas about Jesus are a poor substitute for an actual encounter with Him. I’m sure that when He said “you can not love God and despise your brother” He didn’t mean “get you butt into that pew on Sunday morning,” but can we really affirm that devoted love to the family of God is manifested in dissociation from the assembly? I understand the need to get away from it, but I think that need is created from situations where the mission and message of the church get lost in sub-culture and jargon.

      If you say that you don’t need church to grow, I would concede that is true to some extent, but question what you mean by “growth.”

      • Well, not to be pedantic or anything, but Jesus went to synagogues as well as to the temple. That really does *not* = “church.” It’s a very different things, and I wonder why people tend to assume it’s the same thing as what most of us think of as “church”? My hunch is that the Jerusalem church would be *very* alien to us 21st century Americans. Ditto for the gentile-dominated churches in other locales that came soon after.

        • Well, yes, synagogue was what I meant. However, I don’t think it would be a drastically different experience from traditional Christian worship. The liturgy of the Word was modeled after and grew out of synagogue patterns. And the churches of other locales weren’t all necessarily dominated by gentiles: The apostolic missionaries tended to head first for the Jewish synagogue in the area, where the Gospel of Jesus already had a foot in the door with the old testament. And these churches were all planted by Jewish believers. I’m sure they didn’t have lockstep doxological uniformity, but a pattern of reading from the sacred texts, singing psalms and other hymns, prayer, and teaching were present in all their gathering, not to mention the Lord’s Supper. Considering the lack of literacy at the time, forms were likely fairly simple.

          • No, likely not drastically different in some ways, but in others, yes.

            My beef isnt with you; it’s with the common belief that xtianity is somehow Judaism in a new guise, or that we picked up where Judaism left off. I think any 1st c. gathering (Jewish or gentile) might be confounding for us, if we were able to travel back in time.

  10. Regarding community and faith, I presently don’t participate in a small group at my church because they don’t have any groups which fit my unconventional work schedule. I’d have a much easier time finding a group if I worked office hours. I attend church more often than not on Sundays, but I occasionally work weekends and miss some services. My fellowship these days is limited to the few conversations I can engage in following services, the occasional phone call or the even less frequent lunch meeting. I have to admit this is quite frustrating at times.

  11. I have left the institutional church and I would say that as a result I have lost nearly every friendship. I can see that there are a great many people on-line who still follow Christ, but for the sake of their spiritual integrity, sanity, and self-respect have given up on the institution. So my question is where is everybody? I mean where are you on a map? Anyone in Southeast Michigan? I think we could all use the mutual encouragement of meeting each other face-to-face.. Anybody?