A couple of months ago, I was packing up at the park with Rosa when this other mum started a conversation with me. I could clearly see she had a purpose behind the conversation, and I was curious to see where she was going with it. To be honest, I figured she was a lonely mum looking for connection so imagine my surprise when she finished the conversation up with an invite to her church. I graciously explained that I was already a member of a church and left, and as I drove home I reflected on "how brave" that woman was to approach and invite me - a stranger - to her church.
I have to admit, taking the opportunity to talk about my faith, to be the bridge between a person and greater knowledge of God, is not a strength of mine. When Rob and I first talked about this blog series, my response to this topic (invitations) was - "you do it, I suck at it". And watching to various videos as part of our Life Group study has been confrontational, to say the least. The challenging truth is that, although I am not ashamed of my faith in God and there isn't a bone in my body that isn't committed to following him, I generally do not talk about my faith with those who don't follow Jesus, and can probably count the number of people I have invited to church or a bible study on one hand.
And yet, it's not like I hide other parts of my life. I am open (perhaps too open) about my family, my career, my physical and mental health challenges. I don't shy away from discussing politics, the news or religion in general. I am a planner and regularly take the lead in arranging catch ups with friends and family. And yet, it has only been in the last 6 months or so that I have started acknowledging to my mother's group that I am busy on a Sunday morning because I have church.
So, why am I shying away?
In this day and age, it is definitely understandable to experience anxiety about disclosing your faith. It can feel like such a loaded topic. My job requires me to accept and welcome people no matter what. And the issues they are struggling with - gender, sexuality, religion, a history of trauma, crime - may result in them coming to decisions which are against my faith. My role is to be a non-judgemental safe space where they can talk. So a part of me is taught to compartmentalise my faith - which is ironic because I believe that it is the love I have experienced from God which makes me such a good psychologist. Add in the fact that acknowledging your faith in public can result in conflict, ostracism, or straight awkwardness, and it is no wonder it's easier to dodge the question. Furthermore, I don't want to be seen as "that Christian woman" who is always trying to bring her friends to church - like I described the woman in the first paragraph. I could feel she had a reason (or agenda) for talking to me, and I definitely don't want my friends to feel that as well.
So, how do we connect without the agenda?
To be honest, in many ways, this question continues to stump me. When I think about Jesus' actions, His example, and the way he approached connection and invitation, in some ways I do think he had an agenda and yet he didn't at the same time.
What do I mean by that? I mean that to separate Jesus the person from His faith, His love, His mission, is like trying to separate salt from the sea. It's doable, but why would you? Jesus' purpose was to do God's will - to come to earth, die for our sins and rise again - to save us (John 6:38). And so, he lived and breathed this purpose, this mission. And yet, his actions were not always telegraphed as such.
For example, with Zacchaeus, he did not tell Zacchaeus to change, he just invited himself to dinner (Luke 19:1 - 10). He asked a Samaritan women for a drink of water (John 4:7 - 42) rather than judging her for her sins. Other times he did approach people directly (for example when he called his disciples [Matthew 4:18-22]), or worked with what was being presented to him (for example when he healed the crippled beggar [John 5:1 - 15]). There is so much variety in Jesus' actions, that I don't think it was about the action he took. it was about him - he was the conduit for something greater.
And that is something I can work with. The way I figure it, we are described as the "fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19). There isn't one way to fish (as far as I know) and similarly, there isn't one way to connect people to God. Realistically, if there was it would be written in the Bible under the heading "How to Bring People to God". Instead we have the example of a man who just connected with people using what he had available at the time - food, conversation, invitation and healing. He used his strengths.
So we can use ours. Mine is curiosity. I like to get to know people. I like to know what makes them tick. I like hosting and I like social events. So that is how I can (and more importantly will) start talking to people. I'm not going to have a purpose like the lady in the beginning of this post, because that doesn't feel authentic to me and may put the other person on guard if done wrong. Instead, I just won't hide the fact that I go to church. Or that when I am sick I ask God to heal me. When someone is struggling, I can offer to pray for them - just like I would suggest they seek professional support.
So, I ask you. What are your strengths? What are you intentionally doing in your daily life that allows you to connect to people? And lastly, how can you intentionally use that for God?
- Written by Ashleigh Crosilla