Special. But not that type of Special

I have found myself in three recent but very different conversations about how Christians connect with others in their community. Each of these has left me a little uneasy. On reflection I realise that in each case I had quite different views from my conversation partners, about how validly we can relate to those not identified as Christian.

The first scenario related to a rural congregation that was "working very hard" to "build community" by connecting with "denomination XYZ" up the road. But despite this hard work the leadership of "denomination XYZ" were uneasy about the relationship. "Why do you persist?" I asked. "We're all on about telling the story of Jesus" they said, "We think ecumenism is important." Meanwhile a couple of other great community development activities going on in the town, were collectively eschewed by the congregation. "They're not specifically Christian" they told me.

The second scenario related to a congregation in an area of rapid population growth in the city. There were myriad opportunities for growing community connections with local groups in creative ways. Yet the main interest of local congregation members for connection was a congregation four suburbs away. This was a congregation of another denomination, that had grown rapidly and now had a "fantastic set of buildings." The clear implication was "let's do what they did."

The third scenario related to a thoughtful and open-minded Christian who I have personally witnessed modelling that thoughtfulness and open-mindedness. Yet in one conversation with him he spoke of his daughter's attempts to find a partner. The hope he had was that the partner would be a "Christian." No mention of "love" or even "respect" - just "Christian" as if that label ensures all the traits of a good partner.

The assumption in these scenarios is that a broad label like "Christian" can be a universal guarantee of an authentic godly connection. Yet as I walk the streets around my home and my workplace I see godliness flourishing in myriad places. Christianity has something special to bring to that reality by pointing to it and making it known. Yet it is not the only way to make it know, and in some of the ways it is practised, it may even make it harder to see god.

In all humility, I don't think we discover a godly realm realm by trying to "stay like with like." If Christians have something special to share, let's share it unashamedly yet sensitively. But equally we must be open to the surprising awareness that non Christians (even the "non-religious") have something special to share about god too. And that's all the more reason to dive into community wherever it is.

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