Being a part of the church can be a challenge some days. Those of us who want the church to be more find it to be a place sometimes slow to move towards justice and towards. hope. There is a real move among some leaders in the church for us to have a conversation about how we can be relevant. (I assume here that we can all accept that the church is, for the most part, irrelevant nowadays. I realize that is is a broad generalization – there are parts of the church that are very relevant.) Many of the people engaged together in that dialogue have come to be known as ‘Emergent Church.’ Those who are readers of this blog will no doubt recognize the name Brian McLaren. He is the first of these theologians/conversationalist that I encountered. I have continued to read others who are writing about their quest for a relevant and vital church. I am currently ready An Emergent Manifesto of Hope. It is a collection of essays by ’emergent’ theologians who all long for the church to better express what it means to live as the Christian Community, the kingdom of God. Last night I read an essay by Heather Kirk-Davidoff entitled ‘Meeting Jesus at the Bar; or how I learned to stop worrying and Love Evangelism.’ It was terrifically fresh account of a young pastor’s ability to look to be an evangelist by entering into relationships. She recounts having to have introduced herself to a stranger in a bar and how in conversation, that woman eventually opened a door to a conversation about faith. Now this is not what it sounds like. We have perhaps all been exposed at some point or another to the uncomfortable feeling of being testified to by an overzealous evangelist. No – to me, what Kirk-Davidoff was talking about was a new and relational way of being Christ-Like.
What if churches took the practice of building relationships seriously? What if we not only cultivated Christian fellowship through worship and small groups but also held a high priority the building of relationships with people who are not a part of our church, even people who are very different than us? Far from becoming irrelevant, churches would become essential training grounds for a whole new breed of Christians who want to grow in their understanding of this spiritual path."
There is a Biblical model of this in the personhood of Jesus of Nazareth. The Gospel reminds us again and again of a man who took up conversations with strangers and engaged them where they were. In calling Peter, Andrew James and John, in engaging Martha and Mary, in meeting the Samaritan woman at the well, and in embracing the leper Jesus displayed a very active witness to be relational. We do need to take the business of being in relationship with others far more seriously. Our love, our kindness and our generosity should really be our most powerful evangelical tools. I guess the point is that we ought to focus on doing that which Jesus asked us to do. Why? Not for membership at the local congregation, but because that is what we should do and what is more, that is who we are. As Brian McLaren puts it, "we need to count conversations and not conversions." I think that if we start seriously entering into conversations in our homes, our communities, our cities, our country and our world… we will be relevant!
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