Thursday, July 15, 2010

Come on over…

For various reasons, I’ve been reminiscing about college recently. Good memories. Mostly. Although, I must admit I’m glad how life has since changed - wife, dog, responsible job, no finals. Still, we had fun in college, and some classmates remain close, meaningful friends.

As you might remember, one source of those friendships was my fraternity house, Sigma Chi. All my non-frat pals teased me about “paying for friends,” but (I tell myself) the value has held up over time. Of course, at our school, which had few fraternities or sororities, it was abnormal behavior to “Go Greek.” So we had to work hard to attract and retain new members; a yearly process called Recruitment. Often, this was led by an outgoing, creative third-year (preferably, a responsible one). He organized fun activities and social events (parties) so members and potential recruits could interact, learn about each other, etc. And during my four years, we did quite well.

Here’s why I bring that up. I was chatting the other day with another friend - a Jewish buddy raised in the Reform branch of that religious tradition- when he asked me a familiar question in an unfamiliar way. He said, “Shane, here’s my biggest issue with Christianity. You talk about love and that, but it seems you have a tension at the heart of your faith: Recruitment. Isn’t it a problem you’re required to recruit people? Is that really loving?” Sounds like something I’ve talked about before (with you and others), but I’ve never used the term, “Recruitment,” for what churchfolk call “Evangelism.” It made me pause…

After all, when I hear ‘recruitment,’ I think of…1) My fraternity days, obviously. A group of young guys trying to show other young guys that it’s worth their time and money to join our club, learn our rituals, attend our events- you know- associate with us. Or 2) The military, which is different, but not by much. Soldiers try to show civilians that it’s worth their time and sacrifice to do what they do, learn what they learn, serve their country and- you know- associate with them.

But when my buddy told me his problem with ‘Christian recruitment,’ he associated that idea with something besides simply associating with Jesus. He thought our ‘recruitment’ was about, well, brainwash. Convincing others that we had the (only) right answers. You know the drill. Indeed, you’ve perhaps attended churches who spoke of Evangelism in exactly that way. And my friend, rightly so, took issue with that notion. “How can you love people, Shane, if your overriding goal is to convince them you’re right and they’re not?”

But what if Christians thought about “Evangelism” differently? Heck, I do already! What if rather than making it about “Believing the Truth” (i.e. presuming ours is best, and the only religious truth worth knowing), we talked about association? I’ve told you before that I think ‘belief’ is secondary in Christian faith to other things- Love, Trust in God, Worship, Serving the Poor. After all, beliefs change over a person’s life. At least, they should, if you’re willing to grow. But regardless what you ‘believe’ is true about Jesus, our church tradition claims that as long as you agree to associate with Jesus, come to the Table, then you’re in a good place. In fact, you’re probably nearer to something Christians call salvation than you might be otherwise.

Here’s how I answered my buddy: “For me, it’s not about convincing others our religion is better or best. Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, all have profound ideas about God, the Divine, which could help me know God better, if I took time to learn. But I think there’s lots of folk these days with nothing to believe in, nor any community of support to rely on. Some folk are just confused, even painfully lost. And I’m convinced that Jesus may not be the only way for them to ‘get found,’ but he’s a good way. Best way I know.” “So it’s about serving others in need?” he asked. “Yep,” I answered. “Cool,” he said, and that was that.

What about you? What do you think about Christian ‘recruitment’?

Grace and Peace,


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