I have often either written about or publicly admitted that I find it problematic that people, Christians in particular, often refuse to work with or even associate themselves with those which whom they do not agree with. I admit that this problem exist on both sides, conservative as well as liberal, but in my experiences it has often been the more conservative types that refuse to have anything to do with those whom they do not see eye to eye with.
Well, it's time for me to practice what I preach, so to say. I have recently been approached by an evangelical, southern baptist, conservative pastor who wants me to help with a brand new church plant. Yep, I was, and still am, as shocked as you are.
It was several weeks ago that I received the "out of nowhere" text that informed me this man wanted to meet with me over coffee so that we could "discuss a few things". I of course immediately jumped the gun and began getting prepared to have a theological throw down at the local Starbucks, for this has always been the case with past experiences with the "we need to talk" text message.
However, we were not far into our conversation when he asked if I would be interested in helping him teach at a church plant he had started. After the reality of the question had set in, my mind was flooded with reason after reason why I didn't want to be a part of this. My past experiences with churches were on the forefront of these reasons.
So I thought for a minute and then a sense of relief came over me when I realized that we hadn't even talked about my theology yet. "This guy doesn't know what he is asking!", I thought.
So I gave it my best shot and I went ahead and brought out the big guns first... I gave him HELL! I gave him some of my thoughts on eschatology and universal reconciliation. I thought for sure that would do it, but when he continued to ask me if I would be interested in a teaching position I knew I would have to try even harder.
So explained my involvement with the infamous emergent church. That didn't do it either.
I talked a little about my view of Jesus and how I am VERY inclusive in my soteriology. That didn't do it. (at this point I started to look for hidden cameras.)
I talked about the Bible, inspiration, and inerrancy. Nope, I just couldn't seem to persuade him into rethinking his offer and to realized he had made a big mistake.
So we parted ways so I could give it some thought. And gave it some thought, I did.
After trying to talk myself out of it and coming up with every excuse in the book as to why this wouldn't work (which again, I can think of many reasons why it shouldn't work), I had to admit that maybe I was the one who didn't want to work a long side, or minister to people that I didn't see eye to eye with. Maybe i was guilty of the very same thing that I have often criticized others for, and now the shoe is on the other foot.
So I started to think of all the positives, and there are many actually. I would get to teach within Statesville's city limits, that's a plus and hasn't happened in awhile. I would get to challenge others (which I love doing), and at the same time be challenged by those same people. And then i thought of all the things that I could bring to the table at a church like this one, and all the things these people and this church had to teach me as well.
I ended up teaching one Sunday night (while the pastor was out of town attending the Southern Baptist Convention in Arizona probably voting on the existence of hell or something like that) and i have to say that I had a great time. The people are great and the conversation was good.
I recently led another conversation (yep, I was allowed to come back) on "why pray?", and again, it was awesome, and I was very pleased with the responses and the honest answers that we're offered up.
So this is my current challenge I am faced with, To simply practice what I have preached. To participate and do ministry with those whom I tend to disagree with on some things, and to find the common ground we have. I actually think it's a beautiful thing and a good representation of what the body of Christ should look like... Diverse and and full of people who are willing to focus on what they do all have in common, and if nothing else, that is Christ.
So I want to thank the people at Sharon Community Church for inviting me into their lives and being willing to enter into a diverse conversation.