I have always disliked introducing myself at social events because the first thing you are asked is so “what do you do?” The answer for me has never been simple. I envy those people who could say “I am a primary school teacher or a nurse or a vet” and people immediately understand what they do. When I was a PhD student studying a theory within social psychology, it was hard to explain what I was doing. When I was working with Christian university students it was hard to explain what I was doing, Personnel Development for a Christian Mission Agency even worse. I didn't really think of all this when I decided to become self-employed. I am a bit hesitant to introduce myself as a blogger thinking does it really count when you only have 76 followers? does it really count when you have only been doing it a few months? Then once I have said that I have to explain about my work as an external supervisor, which people who are not in human services work don't really understand. So introducing myself can involve quite an extended and complex conversation. Then I hold my breath and wait for the next question which is "so what do you blog about?" I am always a bit reluctant to say the Church in New Zealand, because I know that once I say that, many stereotypes of Christian Mum bloggers are activated. I have also found that I am a little bit embarrassed to share with people that I think the church should make changes to how it does things. As I have slowly been getting used to introducing myself as a Christian blogger, I have been surprised at how much people have been interested in the topic of my blog and curious to find someone who talks about the issues of the church and contextualisation to society.
The interest I have experienced has got me thinking about which way I tend to face. I have realised that most of my time, energy and focus goes towards the Church. This is common for feminist Christians and for those of us who aren't liberal or evangelical, we orient ourselves in relation to the conservative church. We spend time and energy justifying our position, arguing for space, defending our stance. For some of us clinging to the fact that yes we are Christians, takes most of our energy, others are focussed on healing from the pain and grief that they have experienced within the conservative church. The result of this is that we often experience self- doubt and spend time questioning ourselves - are we really right about what we believe?
This sets us up in a position where it is easy to forget to face those outside the church. It would be good to recalibrate away from the Church and towards those outside the Church. Many people outside the Church don’t have a diverse experience of what the Church is like, and if they rely on the media to show them the Church they only see a US conservative evangelical Christianity. For those of us embedded in the Church and so familiar with it, it is easy to forget to explore what those outside know about it.
I am suddenly aware of the importance of the average person on the street being able to see that there are feminist Christians, progressive Christians, liberal Christians, Christians of all flavours and beliefs, expressed in different ways.
Also that people with limited experience of the Church get to see that Christians have doubts and questions and that is ok, that there are Christians that are dissatisfied with the church how it is. Sharing our faith can be difficult for those of us on the edges of Church. Often our process of deconstruction has left us dissatisfied and loosely connected to the church, we may have lost confidence in a reductionist gospel, but we haven't replaced it with anything we can share easily. Some of us may still feel an odd sense of loyalty to Christianity that means we are reluctant to 'bad mouth' it outside of Christian circles, uncomfortable sharing our doubts, questions and bad experiences. Perhaps we have become reluctant to hear the bad experiences of the church that people outside of the church often want to share with us.
I still feel uncomfortable sharing my faith. Somehow to do it easily always reduced it to something that doesn't show the full complexity and depth of what I believe. Also because I am drifting on the edge of my church I feel uncomfortable inviting people to come, I see the problems and I doubt they would always be and feel welcome, or even understand what was happening. Yet at the heart of why I am so keen to see the Church contextualise better, is because I want to see the Church better able to articulate the hope and love of God to those who have little connection to our faith. I think it is time that we stepped away from the constant and tiring engagement with conservatives and focussed our energy on those outside the church. We need to stop and ask ourselves, why do we spend so much energy trying to convince those inside the church, is it because deep down we are still trying to answer our own doubts?
It is time that we saved some energy and time to face outwards, to talk to those outside the church about our faith. Here are some initial thoughts about how we might do that.
1) You don't have to have it all sorted into an elevator pitch to talk about what you believe. Little pieces of your faith dropped into a conversation here and there are great starters.
2) If you want to help people take a bigger view of the church you could say something like "The church contains lots of different expressions and I am from a part of the church that sees a need for change. We might be a bit different to the image of Christians that you are used to."
3) Ask questions and don't be afraid of expressing your own views on the church, or on being a Christian feminist. Many us of have spent so long hiding our true views so that we fit better within the church framework that we forget that it is ok to express our true views to those outside the church.
4) Think about points of connection, the world is seeking wisdom and hope, things that Christianity has in abundance - how can we articulate that to those outside our faith?
Things to think over:
How are my time and energy captured by those within my faith?
How could I face more toward those outside my faith?
Do I feel comfortable inviting people to church? Why or why not?
What could I do to create a more comfortable environment for those outside to begin to learn about my faith?
As always I would love to hear your thoughts, experiences and challenges of sharing your faith: