A group in our church is working through this tool for exploring a new worshiping community (“new worshiping community” is what we used to call “new church development”). It wants to ground any exploration of a new worshiping community in the identity of the people discerning it–their experience of God and the way they talk about who Jesus is for them–because those will be the foundation of whatever is being built. For many of us in mainlineish churches, this is a high, high hurdle right out of the gate.
Even with all of the requisite qualifications implied in the prepositional phrase “for me,” and even when taking every precaution to avoid being coercive, many of us get stuck trying to articulate our personal experience of God’s love and our sense of who Jesus is.
It is almost baked into the DNA of mainline American Christianity to take seriously the demands of a pluralistic environment and to respect the views of others by not pushing our private religious convictions in a public space. This is a great strength; mainline Christians are, as a rule, highly committed to activities like interfaith dialogue and community service for their own sake and without any expectation of conversion.
But I wonder if we haven’t set up a false choice between engaging the public sphere respectfully and talking about our faith. I wonder if we haven’t uncritically accepted a relegation of religion to the private sphere of our lives to the point that we simply don’t know how to talk about it outside the walls of our church–and very often not inside those walls either.
How do we fix this? Who do you know who does this well? How do you talk to people about Jesus when you’re not at church?
Or do you?