Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Recovering christian conversation

We've been using the time to talk of god book at bible study and it's proved the basis of some really useful discussions, in fact we are using it in some church services now. Some thoughts it has raised I think hit at the heart of some of the problems with church as it tries to manifest gods revelation to others. In terms of practically recovering christian conversations it had a great example of a minister who, during lent, went to the homes of members of their congregations, for a meal. Whilst there, the minister shared communion with the person along with any friends/family who had also been invited. Meals are a great means of conversation, i remember a great talk by John Bell at greenbelt a few years ago called 'Jesus was a fatman' (which always reminds me of that black grape song with the lyric, Jesus was a black man, Jesus was Batman - no, that was Buce Wayne). The point being looking at images of christ, contemplating one of a jolly fat christ, leading to a discussion around the fact that many of the recalled stories about christ involved him meeting and conversing with people over a meal. The alpha course also uses a meal to good effect, but the context here is in providing a space for christians to converse about their faith openly, rather than trying to sell the gospel to an educated middle class.

It's strange that most post-church conversations are rarely about any of the points in the sermon, or issues of faith. In fact someone commented that in all the time they had worshipped at a methodist church they had never had a conversation with a minister that was nothing more than commenting on the trivial. Do people want to talk about their faith? Is it just taken as given that cos you're present at a church service then everything must be sorted with your faith? It's not with me, and i think i would often benefit from such discussions, at one level in a group context, but at a deeper level in a more confidential environment. Perhaps we are afraid to discuss faith with others, because it is seen as a personal thing, which to some extent it is, however faith and a relationship with god impacts your interaction within the world and others. Discussing these matters with others can lend much help through the sharing of experiences, whether they are stories of the miraculous or the mundane.

Now some people are better listeners than others, there is nothing worse than sharing some difficulty or frustration with life for the response to be some kind of generic prayer "god, we lift to you now this situation", that's just some all encompassing rubbish that does no benefit to anyone. God cares for his creation and wants to be involved in discourse, and yes prayer is helpful and useful, not in generic prayer, but direct prayer to the heart of the matter. Then thinking that the problem is now resolved because some words have been muttered to God, again misses the opportunity to help practically in a situation, even if all that is required is to share silence.

Where's this ramble going, well i think churches need to recover christian conversation, provide challenges from scripture that are relevent to life today, be open for discussion in a way that accomodates a wide range of views, allowing people to question, but to also be prepared to change. Maybe there are people trying to make sense of the world and life and spirituality, and just maybe, for some strange reason, they may try to seek it in a church. Perhaps they will be disappointed to merely sing some songs, stand up and down a few times, listen to a monologue and pray, having no opportunity to ask their questions, raise their concerns, listen to the experience of others as they testify to the way God has worked in their lives.

Things for church to improve: create a safe place for discourse of faith, share meals, better pastoral support, help people pray, create a place where people can share their faith. Then perhaps it will be better equipped to continue these ideas in the context of everyday life as it challenges injustice and spreads the good news of christ, peace, love, hope, justice for all.

There are of course many things that hold the church back from moving forward in such a direction, but i've blogged too long already.

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