There is a phrase at GodWhy; “explore at your own pace.” It is the shorter variant of a statement within our vision, “We create opportunities for you to explore the claims of Christ at your own pace, giving you the time and space to judge for yourself if the Bible has answers that will empower your life.”
We all think that we are decently patient. But is the church patient? And how patient should we be? How long should a religious organization wait till a participant gets their act together and falls in line?
When people hear that we have professed atheists, agnostics or deists as active participants in our church family the typical first comment/question is, “Why are they there?” The logic behind that question is…if your church is being the church it should be they would either convert or not want to be there. That makes sense, but the question becomes…how long do we give them to make their journey? Four membership classes? One baptism ceremony? And once they cross a line of faith/profession, how patient are we with their transformation? Does life change have a timeline?
A few years ago we ran a promotion called “Getting Out of the God Business”
We were trying to communicate that our community didn’t want to BE God or dictate God to you, but to give space to discover God.
In First Corinthians Paul writes, “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I (Paul) planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”
We may get to be the “gardener” in someone’s life, helping tend, uproot and providing nourishment; but we are not the water itself, we are not the sun.
The upside to this approach…
When people make a decision (even if it takes years…and it can.) to cross a line of faith, the depth is beautiful. It is not based in guilt, shame, or being strong-armed. They know we can handle hearing about their life as it really is, warts and all. People are shocked that we can hear their questions and struggles and still desire to do life with them.
The downside…(but also an upside)
We have to practice patience. And we get lots of practice.
Ephesians 4:2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
People are real about their questions, their battles, and their past. We want them to be. And for some, they are a long way from surrendering that to God. We still want them here, and want to be there for them.
As I’ve said all along, we don’t think every church needs to take this approach, but I would challenge those of us that consider ourselves “believers” to ask…how patient are we? Do people feel they can be honest about their doubts or struggles with faith? Are we trying to make people get on board with our timeline, our agenda, our plan…are we trying to “grow” people? Or can we, like Paul and Apollos, fall in love with our roles in the lives of others while getting out of God’s way?
Does that sound messy? It is…more later…