In the UK, Christians are in a minority, and their numbers are decreasing. Often, it seems to me, we respond to this by becoming closed-off and turning in on ourselves.
This doesn’t just damage our chances of telling non-Christians about what we believe to be true, it also isolates Christians who feel outside – the kind of people I have in mind in setting up guiltyexpression.
What do I mean by turning in on ourselves? Well, here’s an example: Spring Harvest, the annual gathering of evangelical Christians from lots of different churches in the UK. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think this is a bad thing in itself – what I am worried about is the fact that events like this seem to become more and more important each year, as if gathering together were the most important part of our faith, rather than going outside and letting others know.
Some other examples of gatherings of Christians that often feel to me to be exclusive and inward-looking are university Christian Unions (in my experience very cliquey), youth camps (those that cater mainly for Christian kids and seem to me to offer an escape from the real world rather than a preparation for it) and church group gatherings like Spring Harvest.
I’ve been to Spring Harvest, and it was good. It was encouraging to meet other Christians, and to sing songs loudly, and to hear good teaching. However, I also noticed something about it, which is that everyone seemed very similar to each other.
This is the real problem with this phenomenon of gathering together to face the threat of a society that isn’t interested – we develop a culture that is completely separate from the rest of the country, and this culture involves a lot more stuff than just the fundamental Christian principles. For example, many Christian gatherings in the UK consist almost entirely of middle-class people, and there seems to be a feeling that middle-class-ness is essentially Christian – that somehow both involve something to do with being nice, and vaguely informed.
This is incredibly damaging. Let’s take 2 examples of friends of mine who are both middle-class and white, but have suffered from the uniformity of Christian culture, mainly because they couldn’t make their feelings about particular issues fit in with what they were being told. Both nearly lost touch with the church altogether, and jointly they are the inspiration for starting this site.
Cheesey I know, but what did Jesus do? He gathered people in, told them where they needed to change once they were part of the group, and allowed them to leave if they wanted to.
What should we be doing instead? Well, lots of traditional `churchy’ things are much more outward-looking, for example welcoming people to Christmas services and trying to make them enjoyable and inclusive, rather than seeing people that come as not proper members. What about school Christian Unions? They are inevitably more outward-looking because they’re bound to be pretty small, and school is a close-up place, where your notices about the next meeting are bound to be seen by lots of people.
I know I’m giving a very one-sided argument here, and there’s a lot wrong with it, but do you think I’ve got a point at all or am I talking rubbish?
Got a point.
Made me think about the camp I’m about to go and lead on.
Too tired to write more coherent response just now.
(It’s M again – can’t remember password.)
Andy, you must of hit on some sort of nerve since I felt compelled to respond to your letter. I must confess that I had to resist the urge to respond straight away but go away and give it some thought.
Taking your letter as a whole, I believe that I agree with what you say, as in what I perceive as the underlying foundation behind your comments. However I feel that several specific points I would like to bring up, add to and generally ask any others out there what their point of view is on this. I have decided to take each paragraph in turn.
Firstly statistics, you mention that the church is declining in numbers. I have been told the same for the church as a whole but I have also been told that numbers attending â€˜evangelistic churchesâ€™ has been on a steady increase. Admittedly this has only been told to me by the church, I have not seen the actual data collected or how it was collected etc. If anyone knows where to find this sort of information I would greatly appreciate it.
If the number in your church is increasing then I would say that your first statement the second paragraph has no standing
>This doesn’t just damage our chances of telling non-Christians about what we
>believe to be true
However this doesnâ€™t negate the second part.
>it also isolates Christians who feel outside – the kind of people I have in mind in
>setting up guiltyexpression.
I cannot argue with this since I have felt â€˜outsideâ€™ the church and is an issue I wish to say more on in a bit.
Third paragraph, Iâ€™m glad you said that you donâ€™t think it is a bad thing to have spring harvest and the like. Personally I think that it is a truly wonderful thing. I disagree here with you fundamentally. I think that these occasions are a time where one does not â€˜turn in on ourselvesâ€™ but more â€˜turn ourselves outâ€™. These events show much more than good teaching and some lively songs. It is a time where Christians can actually relax, enjoy the fact that they donâ€™t have to lock up every belonging they have, so it doesnâ€™t get nicked. When I have been to an event I am always struck by the general sense of â€˜loveâ€™ in the atmosphere. By that I mean a God love, where you feel safe, comforted and generally makes you take a look on life and smile. If you invite a non-Christian along to these events rather than most evangelistic events run by church, I think they will see a much truer picture of what God means to the average Christian.
However I will say that your last line is correct in saying that gathering together is not more important than telling others about the gospel. I would add here that your in danger of making the bible a firm set of rules that you must abide to or else Iâ€™m not in your â€˜gangâ€™. Who was it that said â€œLove God, and do as you willâ€, I guess Iâ€™m saying let these people love God and do as they will, at least they are outwardly expressing their faith, which has got to be good.
The last paragraph covers what I think on your fourth paragraph.
Your fifth paragraph, I see your point.
>I’ve been to Spring Harvest, and it was good. It was encouraging to meet other
>Christians, and to sing songs loudly, and to hear good teaching. However, I also
>noticed something about it, which is that everyone seemed very similar to each
Your sixth paragraph is where you â€˜hit the spotâ€™ in my opinion. (Although you do seem to have a semi-hatred towards the middle-class or is it church?).
O.k trying to be brief, I think that when you consider who the gospel will appeal to when you tame it down a little by making it more â€˜of our western cultureâ€™, is obviously middle class. The very rich would I imagine find it very hard and the poor made to feel in many ways pathetic.
The people who fall into middle-class will usually be hard working and have general respect for others, they generally donâ€™t have the drive or ambition to be multi-billionaires since they value their family and friends, in so doing will find Christianity on the whole not really life changing.
This is not a dig but more what I see as a path of least resistance.
So yes I would agree that when it comes to socio-economic groups â€˜the churchâ€™ is fairly biased and yes I would agree that this in itself has caused problems, but I wouldnâ€™t go as far to say that it is a fault of a hard working person who values his family and friends and respects other people and has decided to look into and follow Jesus as the root of the problem.
Your seventh paragraph, I donâ€™t know enough about the situation but point taken over the uniformity of the church.
Paragraph eight, I must confess I need you to expand on your statement about what Jesus did. Any references in particular ?
Paragraph nine, as a person who has constantly found Christmas services and the Christians at my school dull as dull can be, I personally would prefer to go for a day to a local Spring Harvest. However I would once again say that these people love God so I am quite willing to let them put their efforts into the Christmas service and rejoice with them.
So are you talking rubbish, in my opinion, on the whole no. However I would be tempted to argue that the root of the problem doesnâ€™t lie with just middle-class sameness.
I would say that I feel that the church falls pray to many different aspects of our culture. What the root cause is Iâ€™m not sure. My first guess in the dark would be that if you blame the sheep for not doing the right thing I would blame the shepherd for not teaching them. We may agree that many church goers look the same but when it comes to leadership between churches I see little uniformity. Yet I canâ€™t help but think of Moses in the desert which blows away my whole argument.
In my continuing defence of middle-class sheep I would put out the subject of time. On the whole, most people work, come home and have tea, which leaves maybe 3 good hours a night to play with. Less time than I heard one evangelist tell me than he spends in prayer a day!
I would say that when it comes to evangelism it will come largely down to how much time can we spend with that person. I still have only grasped the basics of Christianity and Iâ€™ve been trying to understand it for years. I have needed thousands of hours support from loads of friends and I still struggle. So I would say the only way to evangelise for the majority of us is to lead our lives as best we can with God at the centre of it. Sort of letting him filter out through us.
I would argue at this point that Jesus didnâ€™t exactly cause many waves when he was a carpenter, and he was a single man with loads of free time on his hands to evangelise to the nations and Iâ€™m fairly certain he believed in God.
I would then say that with feeling â€˜outsideâ€™ of the church, in my experience is because I didnâ€™t really try and be inside. When I have got involved, such as youth camps, I have found that I have felt part of the church and consequently my faith has grown.
Iâ€™m not suggesting for one minute that doing youth camps will solve everyoneâ€™s problems but I do think that it is a two way thing. One must first hear the message and then respond. Responding can be in as many different ways as you can think of.
Which brings me to the point where I would say that maybe listening to peoples responses is our weakness. I mean actually listening to them and not condemning them for saying what they honestly think. Which is what this website is all about ???
Hi ~~, here goes:
I think you mean evangelical rather than evangelistic, but anyway, point taken about possible rising numbers.
> If the number in your church is increasing then I would say
> that your statement has no
[that closed-off-ness damages our chances of telling people about God]
I don’t agree. Just because God is working doesn’t mean we’re doing everything right.
> … Spring Harvest … I disagree here with you
> fundamentally. I think that these occasions are a time
> where one does not â€˜turn in on ourselves’ but more â€˜turn
> ourselves out’
I certainly would like them to be like this, but I suspect that they are not.
> I would add here that your in danger of making the bible a
> firm set of rules that you must abide to or else I’m not in
> your â€˜gang’. Who was it that said â€œLove God, and do as you
> will’, I guess Iâ€™m saying let these people love God and do
> as they will, at least they are outwardly expressing their
> faith, which has got to be good.
Ouch yes I never thought I would be accused of that but you have a point.
I suppose what I want to do is persuade people to be vigilant about being turned inwards, but not tell them what to do, of course!
I don’t hate the middle class. In fact I think that throughout the UK’s history it’s almost always been the middle class who were right about most stuff, and it is always them who bring about changes. _But_ we middle class people share loads of baggage that could drive others out.
> This is not a dig but more what I see as a path of least
What you have said here is pure genius. You are completely right.
> Paragraph eight, I must confess I need you to expand on
> your statement about what Jesus did. Any references in
> particular ?
Jesus was often accused of hanging around with `sinners’ who were social rejects. No refs – any suggestions anyone? There are loads I imagine.
> So are you talking rubbish, in my opinion, on the whole no.
> However I would be tempted to argue that the root of the
> problem doesnâ€™t lie with just middle-class sameness.
No I agree with you completely. As I said, the 2 people who inspired me were both middle class, British and white (one male, one female).
My problem is trite-Christian-answer-sameness, lack of freedom to debate, and exclusivity.
That’s one reason why I’m glad that this Welsh guy has been made Archbishop of Canterbury, even though I think I disagree with him on some stuff. He seems interested in open debate and plain speaking.
> … blame the shepherd for not teaching them …
I disagree – I think loads of church leaders are trying to change this but the sheer weight of inertia is difficult to resist.
> Yet I can’t help but think of Moses in the desert which
> blows away my whole argument.
What do you mean?
> I would then say that with feeling â€˜outside’ of the church, in
> my experience is because I didn’t really try and be inside.
I don’t deny that this is one way people can feel outside the church, but I don’t think it’s the only way.
Let’s take you, ~ for example. You went to a church in Brighton and made loads of effort to get involved, did their youth group, etc. And yet when you went forward for prayer after a meeting you felt rejected and singled out because people kept asking you what was `wrong’ as if it is abnormal to want prayer to help your relationship with God!
I found that experience, and others you had at that church, deeply upsetting and this helped form some of the opinions I am expressing here.
> Which brings me to the point where I would say that
> maybe listening to peoples responses is our weakness. I
> mean actually listening to them and not condemning them
> for saying what they honestly think. Which is what this
> website is all about ???
Get posting, people.
We need to _talk_.
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