Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Eyes Have It

I was going to write today about how regardless of your location, your age, or your situation, it’s still true that the most effective way to grow your church (or any group, really) is by personally inviting people to come with you.  But there are already plenty of places to read about that (here, here, or here,  for instance).  Meanwhile I also like to try to get to the root of things, so it was interesting to me the past couple of days to see that maybe there’s a problem underlying the problem.  (Isn’t there always?)   I was thinking about this underlying problem because I recently read an essay called “Being Ubuntu through Relationship” by Terrance Jacob in Renew 52.  He talks about his experience in consulting with churches that are wanting to do multicultural outreach.  Jacob notes that people tend to focus on the differences between us, and that difference becomes an obstacle to building relationships.  Jacob mentions Ubuntu but doesn’t explain it very much, so I turned to Google (of course) which inevitably lead to Wikipedia.  But unlike usual the Wikipedia article didn’t help me out much.  It did, however,  mention that Ubuntu has African origins.  This got me to thinking about my African friend from my seminary days and how he struggled to connect with his American classmates.  At first his difficulties were language based, but as those difficulties eased the hurdles became more about culture.  He is a very friendly guy, and has a warm greeting for everyone he meets.  But, as he explained to me, in his culture people don’t just breeze past each other with a quick hello like we do.  They stop and talk to each other.  The problem is that we Americans are too busy for that and he was feeling dismissed.  And that got me to wondering whether this busyness isn’t our underlying problem with inviting people to church?  Connecting sounds easy enough, but it’s a bit of a time commitment.  First you have to put yourself in a position to encounter people you don’t know, and then be willing to take the time to talk to them and get to know them.  But what if that other person doesn’t look like me?  Doesn’t act like me?  Doesn’t want to talk to me?  What if they hate me?  What if they pull out a gun and shoot me?  Ok, so that last one is highly unlikely, but it does happen, doesn’t it?

Jacob suggests that we need to be seeking to have conversations with people, and not because we are trying to help them or make them feel welcome, but just because we want to get to know them.  It sounds easy, but I know that it’s not always so simple.  For me part of the key has been just being willing to make eye contact and connect with people.  I spent years avoiding eye contact—always having a book to read on the bus, for instance.  And I know just how to walk with forceful intention so that I look like I’m too intent on getting something done to be distracted by any people that happen to be in the way—you know, looking busy.  And these days we all carry around eye-contact deterrent devices that are just as effective as my book. It’s even become socially acceptable to deliberately ignore people by continually staring at our pocket-sized screens.

Nevertheless, I think it’s possible to overcome these obstacles.  The place to start is with a desire to learn how.  Some prayer will help.  And remember, with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible, right? 

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,” -Ephesians 1:18

1 comment:

  1. Hey Melissa

    Great article! I appreciate your thoughts and your engaging further on "Ubuntu". Sorry I did not offer an explanation. The simple phrase used to define "Ubuntu" is: "I am because you are." There is the John Donne poem "No man (sic) is an island", reminding us that we are all part of each other. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also reminds us that "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

    Generally, western society is individualistic and individualized, but the church is called to "koinonia" and to create that fellowship, we have to find counter-cultural ways to connect. Community organizing teaches the tool of 1-on-1s to build relationships to help people connect around common interest. Jesus seems to have had those "uncommon conversations" - and they resulted in transformation and the building of a new community. A community that rocked the world - but is it still rocking... Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, all parts of the world?

    Every Blessing in Christ