Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Holy Conversation - Week 1

Last year, I was in charge of my church small group discussions about Calling. I decided to write about the material in addition to leading the discussion. (All of those posts should be available here.) I'm leading the group again this fall, so I thought I would write about it again. This year, we're going through the book Holy Conversation by Richard Peace.

The overall point of the book is that evangelism is in a wayward state in our current cultural climate. For a lot of people, it means tracts and pamphlets, brimstone condemnations, self-righteous judgment, that sort of thing. Even if you dial that back, just the act of telling someone that their beliefs are wrong or their actions sinful is the worst possible social blunder, impolite at best and offensive, bordering on a human rights violation, at worst. On the other end of it, many Christians have taken such cultural frowning on proselytizing to heart to the extent that even talking about their faith is uncomfortable. The goal of the book is to move back towards a model of relational evangelism, purposeful and personal without being offensive.

I'm not unsympathetic to the idea. Drive-by, shotgun-style evangelism is a net with very big holes in it. I can't say it doesn't have a place, but it's not going to catch a lot of fish. Religion has become a very personal thing, not a public expression, in the last several decades (for better or worse.) Even Pope Francis is on the same page:
He smiles again and replies: "Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense. We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. Sometimes after a meeting I want to arrange another one because new ideas are born and I discover new needs. This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good."
I feel like the Pope is a bit too heavy handed with the Universalism-angle in this interview, but that could be the translation. The bottom line is that conversion is a different process for everyone, and that makes it a very personal thing. Formulas and presentations aren't necessarily the way to go, but a direct relationship can make for a much more natural progression.

The first week focused on the idea that everyone is on a spiritual journey, and half the battle in having a productive conversation about faith is understanding where your friend is on their own path how to address them in that place.

Frankly, I think I missed the point of the study in the first week. The goal of the study is to help make evangelism a natural process, getting away from heavily religious terminology that might scare or confuse folks, working on a personal level. What did I do? I prepared a discussion that tried to form a biblical basis for the idea that everyone is on a spiritual journey. I tried to establish a connection between the ideas Peace was laying out for the conversion process and traditional theological ideas. If you're used to thinking in technical ways, it's hard to break away from that.

Hopefully the coming weeks will be more natural. It's frustrating to me so far that each session is very light on material; preparing an actual "lesson" seems counter-intuitive to the goal of the study, but hoping that three pages of material focused on a single idea can generate 1-2 hours of conversation seems overly optimistic to me. Still, I look forward to seeing how the study turns out.

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