Want to make people feel included? Drop insider talk

Make people feel included by dropping insider language.

One of the most important ways we include people is by dropping insider language.

Within any particular subculture, such as the medical profession or among sports fanatics, insider talk makes sense. Jargon is a kind of short-hand that makes conversation more fluid. I get it. Everyone is on the same page, speaking from the same dictionary, and that works.

But what about when your group exists to include people who are not part of your group? That is the case with the church of Jesus: we have been given the job of including “outsiders”–people who have not previously identified as following Jesus–in the life of our community. If we actually want to include outsiders, then we must include them from the very start by dropping insider talk, or (second-best) at least taking the time to explain the meaning of the short-hand words we are using.jargon

I’ve learned this through failure. I remember sitting with a friend years ago, trying to mentor him and encourage him, when he finally said, “Tom, please be patient with me. I don’t get half of what you’re saying. You use words I’ve never heard and don’t understand.” Folks, that was my fault, not his. All my theological and Christian jargon, comfortable to me, was not helping me do what Jesus had told me to do. So I started breaking down the big words and simply stating what they mean in ways that outsiders, or new insiders, could understand. I don’t do it perfectly, but I do try to make my language more understandable to the people I’m passionate to reach. And it’s not about dumbing down the message; it’s about actually conveying one.

My everyday conversations have become more accessible, but it’s my preaching that I’ve worked the hardest to change. Believing that our worship gatherings are a crucial time when outsiders (non-church people) begin to be included, I use everyday, common words in my preaching. I avoid Christian cliches (sometimes called “Christianese”, which is itself a “Christianese”!), long theological terms, terms that have a long Christian history but are no longer known culturally, as well as words known only to the literate few.  Sometimes I can’t avoid it. For example, I’m currently preaching through the book of Revelation, and while I’ve managed to avoid the word “eschatological” (meaning the study of last things), I’ve had to lean into the meaning of the word “apocalypse” (meaning “revelation”, not some catastrophic event) because of its centrality to the book and because of its helpfulness in explaining the Revelation . . . er . . . the Apocalypse of Jesus Christ. When I have to use a word that is longer or lesser known, I take time to explain it.  I don’t always succeed; I know that. For example, I’m fairly confident I used the word “Messianic” last Sunday without explanation, and I know there’s people who didn’t know what that meant!

A few days ago, in a group conversation reflecting on people’s experience in our church, I heard something encouraging. An elderly man, who is himself a new insider who came to trust Jesus within the last year, said, “I like how this church uses everyday language so I understand what’s going on.”  That’s a win, folks.

While I know that there are people who will defend the importance of theological terms and their use in our common gatherings, I think others who agree with the need to drop these terms in certain contexts face one particular challenge: we’ve used these words so often and for so long that we are no longer aware of them and how foreign they are to most people. Growing in our awareness of our insider talk takes work and self-reflection, as well as candid conversations with others in our church about how we can become more welcoming to new people among us. Remember, it’s all about including people and helping them find and follow Jesus.

So let me ask you:

What “insider” words do you tend to use without thinking?

What ways have you made your language more accessible without sacrificing depth of conversation? 

 

 

Four Ways the Jesus Prayer Reminds Us to Pray

When you are in a tough spot, confused about what to do, or at the end of your nerves, how do you pray?

If you’re anything like me, it’s probably short, honest and to the point. There’s no time, energy or desire for prayers much longer than a few words, spoken from the heart.

That’s why I love the Jesus prayer, a prayer from the lips of a man who was truly good and stuck. Maybe you remember the story? Jesus was only miles from Jerusalem and a blind beggar cried out with one of the most elegant and honest prayers ever made: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me. This simple prayer has found itself forming on the lips of many saints down through the centuries, the heart cry of any and all who find themselves lost for words and in desperate need.

The story of Blind Bartimaeus reminds me to pray in four important ways.  (It’ll help if you take 30 seconds and read the story.)

The Jesus Prayer

 

1. Pray Honestly.  Rather than dressing things up to look less desperate, Barty knew his need. His prayer was from a deep place of honestly. The Jesus prayer allows us to pray honestly — we need mercy! Come to Jesus and admit your need for him to make a difference in your life.

2. Pray Boldly. There were others who tried to shut this beggar down, but Mark tell us that “he only shouted louder”. I love that. There may be people in your life, or even your own internal voices, that tell you Jesus doesn’t care, to stop crying out to him, to just accept your lot in life and keep out of the way. Don’t listen to those voices. Trust the goodness and grace of Jesus and “only shout louder.” Jesus loves you and hears you.

3. Pray Simply. The Jesus Prayer is nothing if not simple. It captures the essence of who Jesus is (The Son of David is a Messianic confession, meaning that Jesus is the only true deliverer) and the reality of our need for him. Nothing less, but nothing more either.  Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me. This prayer is easy to memorize (you already have!) and can become a prayer of the heart as we ask Jesus to have mercy on us in our time of need.  Your need might be for strength to care for your children at home, insight in a difficult situation at work, or grace to overcome a dark time of depression. Whatever your need, this simple prayer captures everything.

4. Pray Responsively. I’m struck by the fact that Bartimaeus left his cloak, received healing and followed Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. As anyone reading the Mark story so far would see, Jesus is heading to Jerusalem for one purpose: to give his life as a ransom for many. Bartimaeus joins Jesus as he continues on his way to do just that. When we pray to Jesus, we pray responsively, open to Jesus’ call to us and willing to go wherever he leads us as he brings mercy and healing into our lives. Our prayers are not just to “get” something (as desperately as we really do need his mercy); we pray so that we can follow Jesus more fully as he leads us.

So try it: The Jesus Prayer.  Let this honest, bold, simple prayer lead you to receive from and respond to Jesus as he pours his mercy and grace into your life.

Have you ever tried the Jesus Prayer?

What prayers do you pray when you are good and stuck?

 

5 Things I Love About Alpha

This week, the Alpha course starts again at our church.  We ran two in the fall (Youth and Adult), and now are offering another one.  I’m excited, as many of you know, because I love the way God uses Alpha to help people find Jesus.

Maybe you’ve never done the Alpha Course, or perhaps your church has talked about it but never pursued it.  Let me tell you why I love it, and hopefully you’ll check it out. Alpha

Here are 5 reasons I love Alpha.

First, the incredible conversations.  One thing that shines at Alpha is the quality of the conversation. Because people get to know one another over a series of weeks, eating a meal together (always eat at Alpha!) and hearing about one another’s lives, the level of engagement is fantastic. The content of the teaching inspires healthy, focused conversation on topics of real relevance. When we nurture a space for people who are new or exploring to safely ask their questions, the conversations are real and people feel heard.

The second thing I love about Alpha is the helpful teaching. Whether the talks are given live or on screen, the content of the Alpha talks are super relevant and well thought-out.  Covering the basics such as “Who is Jesus?” and “How Do I Pray?”, the talks move people closer to an understanding of the Christian faith.  The teaching on the Holy Spirit is often new for many Christians as well, inspiring greater levels of commitment to Jesus for everyone.

Third, the relationships formed. Probably one of the most significant results of Alpha are the new friendships. Men and women who might never have met grow to know and love each other, often staying together in some kind of small group following Alpha. And as Nicky Gumble relays in some of the Alpha training, these relationships are absolutely key to a person continuing to follow Jesus into the future.

The fourth reason I love Alpha is seeing life change. Trusting the Holy Spirit is at work, we simply walk with people through Alpha, listening, sharing, praying and learning together. And to see how God changes lives in that context blows me away. This is what Alpha is all about, and it’s so amazing to see change happen as people experience God’s grace and love in their lives.

And fifth thing I love about Alpha is the courage people show. Whether it’s the bravery of inviting a friend to Alpha or the willingness to come to a strange place (a church building!) and engage a group of unknown people, I am so impressed with the courage people show at Alpha. And on through the sessions, as men open up, as women share their stories, courageously asking deep questions, courageously admitting areas of hurt, courageously stepping out to follow Jesus–courage shines at Alpha.

We are looking forward to another great Alpha course, excited about the folks who are coming, expectant for God to work.

Find an Alpha course near you. Start one in your church. See what God can do.

3 Truths Jesus Wants You To Remember Today

Everyday, messages bombard us, trying to define our reality.

You need to look this way or be like them to really be successful.

You don’t fit in with the cool kids. 

You deserve more because you are better than them.

No matter what you do, you’ll always be a “less than.” Truth or Lie?

You’ll never have all you need to succeed. 

You’ll never be happy if you’re stuck with her.

If you really want to be happy, you need this product/look/relationship/out of this relationship.

In order to drown out these pervasive lies, we need to let powerful truth soak in.

Here are three truths Jesus wants you to remember today, from when you get up in the morning to when you lay down at night.

Truth #1. “I am with you.” When Jesus was born, he was called “Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.”  Jesus’ last words to his disciples in Matthew 28 was the personal guarantee of his presence in our lives: “And surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Jesus promised to never leave or forsake us, so whatever is going on in your life, however lonely you feel or overwhelmed life gets, Jesus wants you to hold on tight to his guarantee: I am with you.

Truth #2. “I love you.” Held up at every sports event for cameras to see, we read the cryptic reference: John 3:16. Why? Because this little verse captures the heart of God for his broken and precious world, a world he loved so much that he sent Jesus to rescue us from slavery and bring us back home. There is no greater reality than the fact of God’s love for us. We receive a lot of messaging during a day about how “unlovely” we are, from images of the “ideal” woman to the illusions of how much more popular we would be if we only bought __________ (you fill in the blank). And we are swayed by that, longing to be loved or received or admired or popular or simply happy.  Jesus’ message to us today is simple: I love you. And when you let his love become the defining reality of your life, that’s all you need.

Truth #3. “I am leading you.” Jesus’ guaranteed presence and love means we are able to trust him fully with our lives. There is no hidden agenda, no sudden turning of his heart away from us. Jesus is faithful, and his loving presence defines our past, present and future. What does that mean? Jesus can lead us now.  This third truth is a challenging one, because we know we can resist his leadership in our lives.  The statement “I am leading you” requires our daily affirmation: “Yes, Jesus, and I am following.”  Or perhaps more fully, “Yes, Jesus, I know you are with me and that your love never fails. Lead on.” The promise of Jesus’ presence is connected directly to his leadership in our lives (see Matthew 28:18-20, as well as Hebrews 13:5-6 quoted above–both are connected to living faithfully under Jesus’ leadership). Furthermore, his love for us changes our lives, so that we are able to live responsively to him, obedient to his vision for us.

Jesus wants you to cement these three truths into your heart and mind today:  I am with you, I love you, and I am leading you. With these three truths locked in, we can stand strong whatever comes.

How do these truths change the way you hear false messages, both internal and external?

How do these truths help you respond in difficult situations?

4 Reasons I Love Praying at Town Council Meetings (and 4 guidelines I follow when I do)

This may come as a surprise to you, but later today I’ll be opening our Creston Town Council in prayer. I, along with fellow Creston Valley ministerial members, take turns doing this for our dedicated public servants, and it’s an honor.

Whenever I pray at council, I follow four guidelines.

  1. I assume a diverse audience. Respecting people present who either do not pray or hail from different religious traditions, I do not ask anyone to “join me in prayer”  or “bow their heads.” Rather, I express my appreciation for their work and then state, quite simply, that I am thankful for the opportunity to pray for them as they serve our community.
  2. I don’t use insider or religious language. I keep it simple, honest and clear . . . and short!
  3. I ask God to give them wisdom and insight as they lead in our community and make decisions that affect us all.
  4. I close my prayer “in Jesus’ name, Amen.” In other words, I do not simply use the generic word “god” (which means, simultaneously, anything and almost nothing at all), but pray in the name of Jesus. I am a Christian and that’s how we pray.

But I do love praying at Town Council. Here’s four reasons why:

Our town council, picture taken from the Town of Creston Website. Find out more at creston.ca.
Our current town council. Picture taken from the Town of Creston website. Find out more at creston.ca.
  1. Praying at town council is a clear way I can show honor to our civic leaders. These men and women work hard for our community, after-hours and for little pay, and they are worthy of our honor, thanks and prayer.
  2. Praying for our council members and mayor reminds them that we care, particularly as the church. Even for folks unfamiliar with it, prayer shows care.
  3. Praying for God to give our council wisdom and guidance has real effect, as we believe that God hears our prayers and will give them what they need to lead us well.
  4. Praying for our council members invites them, gently and humbly, to consider their leadership as an act of service to us and under God.

When I pray at Town Council, I represent Jesus and his church. In truth, we need to consistently pray for those in leadership.  Not all of us get the opportunity to do so in the council chambers of a local government, but all of us can enter God’s chambers and pray on their behalf. God likes it when we do, as Paul wrote when mentoring Timothy:

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.

This is good and pleases God our Savior . . .

(1 Timothy 2:1-3 NLT)

What would you add to my list of guidelines or reasons?

How do you pray for your local government?

3 Questions to Ask of Every Sermon

Have you ever heard a message from a preacher and wondered how it connects to life?
Ever been confused about how to respond to what you’ve heard?
Here are three great questions to help define what you’ve heard and determine your response. And while you might not ask each question every time, one or two of them is bound to help.

1. The Who? Question. Identity

Who is God and who are we? The first question to ask is about Identity. Based on this message, what am I learning about who God is and who we are as people created in God’s image? The identity of God and human identity are inter-related, forming the foundation of Christian knowledge and practice.  So, as you listen to a message from Scripture, be attuned to identity. How is this message challenging or reminding me about God’s true character?  How is my self-understanding being shaped or refined? What am I hearing that makes me uncomfortable? Where am I being encouraged?  Identity is primary.

  2. The What? Question.

InsightWhat am I learning? The second question is about Insight. Now, obviously the “who” question will yield fresh insights, but the question “what new insight am I learning?” broadens our focus.  Perhaps the message really opens up a new way of thinking about your work. Or maybe you realize you’ve been viewing irritating people as enemies and your attitude needs to change. Could it be that 15 minutes of Bible reading a day could really change my life? And so on.  Simply ask, “what did I learn today?” and see where that leads.

3.  The How? Question.

How should I live? Question three moves us into Action. How should I respond? How should I act, based upon what I’ve heard from God’s Word? This is absolutely crucial. Jesus said that people who heard his teaching and put it into practice were like houses built on solid foundations. Identity and insights must become actionable. If they don’t, we are in danger of thinking we are growing as Christians when we are actually hardening our heartsTime for action. Stopwatch on white background. Isolated 3D imag  We must always ask: Based upon what I am learning about who God is and who I am, based upon the new insights I am gaining today, how should I respond? To whom do I need to go to and ask for forgiveness? How will I love my wife more sacrificially? How will I respond differently to criticism? And so on.  As James says, “. . . don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.” (James 1:22 NLT) Drive yourself to ask this action question every time. Raise it among your friends or at your small group. Don’t let yourself off the hook–do what it says.

Truthfully, good communicators raise these questions to their listeners, challenging us to grapple with identity, insight and action.  But often we are listening to people who are growing as communicators, or are struggling to make sense of things themselves. Whatever the scenario, these three questions will help us glean much from even a little, when asked with ready minds, hearts and hands.

Let me ask you: What questions help you connect preached messages to your daily life?

Bonus feature! Listen to a message I gave titled: How to Listen to A Sermon, (and actually get something out of it). (It features different content than this post.) It was divided into two parts: get part 2 here.

 

The one prayer that makes all the difference

Berries in the SnowOften we don’t know what to pray. Sometimes we are confused, frustrated, overwhelmed, or just nervous. Other times we might be fearful or tense.

The Apostle Paul, in Romans 8, encourages us with these words: “And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us . . . pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. (Romans 8:26-27 NLT)

Let those words sink in. Can you think of anything more reassuring? In those times when we are most confused, God is not, and his Holy Spirit is actively praying for us, in precise harmony with God’s will. That’s pretty amazing.

So here’s what I try and do: when I’m going into meeting, struggling with a relationship, needing wisdom or suddenly feeling overwhelmed, I pray some variation of this simple prayer: “Holy Spirit, thank you for praying for me. Fill me now with your grace, your wisdom, and your love.” I pray it when I’m wrestling with an upcoming message for our church, when I’m discerning a critical decision, or when I’m experiencing conflict with one of my children. “Holy Spirit, thank you for your presence. Please come and fill me up.” I try to pray it every morning, that I may walk by the Spirit throughout my day.

This short prayer, acknowledging the presence of the Spirit in my life and asking him to fill me with his grace and wisdom and love, re-orients me when I need it the most. Whatever I am facing, I have God’s Spirit living in me, guiding me and advocating for God’s will to be done, both in my life and in the lives of the people around me.  And by asking the Holy Spirit to fill me, I am more intentionally walking by the Spirit, letting him direct me rather than being misdirected my own confusion, fear or insecurities. (Read Romans 8 for more amazing truth on God’s Spirit in us.)

I’m sure you have times when you are confused, fearful or overwhelmed. Remember during those times: you have a powerful ally. The Holy Spirit, the One who pours God’s love into your heart, enabling you to call God your “Abba,” is actively praying, pleading and even groaning for God’s most amazing will to flourish in your life. No wonder we can can shout: “If our God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

Is it my prayer that makes all the difference? No, it simply reminds me that the Holy Spirit’s praying for us. And his prayer, my friends, really is making all the difference in the world.

Isn’t it amazing that the Holy Spirit prays for us?

What difference does that make in your confidence and faith? 

Everybody Hurts, Sometimes: Six Practices To Increase Our Empathy

R.E.M was right. And we all know it: everybody hurts, sometimes.

Advice from the old song? Take comfort in your friends. 

So here’s my question: how can we become a comforting friend to hurting people?

It seemed like every day this last fall, I was being schooled in empathy. I was struck, again and again, by how much was really going on “behind the scenes” in people’s lives.  And the more I knew, the more the Holy Spirit grew my empathy.empathy

It’s so easy to judge others, isn’t it? We all know it’s wrong. We all quote “judge not lest ye be judged,” and, if asked, we all say we don’t want to be judgmental. But let’s be honest: we often are. It’s just so easy to assume things about others, based upon my narrow vantage point on their lives.

That kid freaking out in the store. What a brat.

That couple who constantly bicker. Immature.

That wealthy woman who has it all together.  Wow, what a snob.

That annoying teen age boy. Avoid, avoid, avoid. 

So, how do I become a non-judgmental, grace-filled person? By growing in empathy for others.

Here are six practices helping increase my empathy for others.

1. Always assume there is more going on than you know. Okay, so maybe there won’t be, but I’ve been consistently surprised at that depths and significance of people’s personal struggles, when I’ve got in close enough to care. Knowing that, I’ve started just assuming there’s more, especially in those times when I’m beginning to judge a person for their anger or their sharp criticism or their cool veneer.

2. Give grace. Assuming there’s more going on, I consciously extend grace to that person. I’ll even tell myself, “This person must be hurting,” or “I wonder what’s happening here,” cuing myself to do as Romans 15:7 instructs: Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. (NIV) This helps me remember to give grace as I’ve been given grace.

3. Ask gently and prayerfully how they are doing. If it’s appropriate, I try to find out more about the person. Depending on my relationship with them, this may just be getting to know them at a basic level, even a simple, gracious conversation in the check-out line, or it could mean leaning in close and asking, “Is everything okay?”  I’ve asked that at a coffee counter and seen tears leap into the eyes of the barista. We may not have talked it through right there, but at the very least, I was able to express care and grace and give an encouraging word to another loved baristaperson.

4. Hold their story reverently. If people do open up, know that you are standing on holy ground. The stories of people’s lives are sacred material, woven by the grace of God, shot through with beauty and ravaged by sin. To hear anyone’s story is a precious gift, and we hold it reverently. We don’t make it about us, we don’t try to deny what they are feeling. We listen openly, giving people the space to actually share their real struggles. I’ve written here how we can become better listeners.

5. Pray with them and for them. If at all possible, ask if you can pray with them, right then and there. If they are at work, or you are in a place where prayer could embarrass them (especially if tears flow, which often happens in prayer), then either move to a more private location, or commit to pray for them after you leave. If you can pray with them then, make it simple and short: “Jesus, thank you for loving us. I pray you will give __________ your grace today.  I pray that he/she will know how much you love him/her. Amen.”  Natural voice, no theatrics. After you leave, write down their name where you can see it and pray for them for a week.

6. Reflect on how your view of them has changed because you know more of their story. Wow, I had no idea she was struggling with such deep depression. I did not know that boy’s dad left him and his mom high and dry last year. I was unaware of the fact that her mom was just diagnosed with cancer. And so on. Everything seems to change when we know more about a person’s life. Our understanding grows, our love grows, and we become more gracious and more empathetic.

R.E.M. tells the hurting people to hold on. Hold on. You’re not alone. 

As we grow in grace and increase our empathy, hurting people will know they aren’t alone, that they can hold on, that they are loved and heard by us, and by the God who made them in his image.

Let me ask you: What have you done to increase your empathy? 

What do you do when you find yourself judging someone? 

What are you reading this summer?

I know it’s the hip thing to post a summer reading list, so I thought I’d join the throngs and let you in on what I’m currently reading. It’s an odd collection, and I didn’t sit down and decide at some point what I would read this summer; this is just a snapshot of what’s going on right now. open-book

Drags Grizzly, by Chris Luke. Chris is the former chief of the Lower Kootenay Band here in the Creston Valley, where he served as chief for thirty years. He is a personal friend, and he gifted me a copy of his autobiography. I am enjoying it immensely.

The Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation, by Richard Bauckham. Considered one of the foremost biblical scholars on the book of Revelation, Richard Bauckham walks through a series of themes that emerge in this stunning revelation of Jesus. I’m loving it.

One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez.  I’ll be honest–this book is written in a style that stretches me. I can’t say I’m a terrific literature reader in the first place, and I’m trying to find my feet in this unique, seemingly mythical story spanning one hundred years of a dysfunctional family.

When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals, by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy.  I found this a fascinating read, although I often parted ways with the author philosophically. This book features many intriguing stories of animals, from an elephant who tries out a kids swing-set to a chimp in mourning who bums live smokes off zoo visitors in order to chase his cage mates around while threatening to burn them.

Shingwauk’s Vision: A History of Native Residential Schools, by J.R. Miller. My good friend Duff Crerar, Canadian historian extraordinaire, gifted me this book on my recent trip to Grande Prairie, claiming it to be one of the best histories of this tragedy.

The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, by Lesslie Newbigin. Undoubtedly the most influential book, aside from the Bible, that I have ever read. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve read this book, but it’s time of a most inspiring re-read.

 

So, tell me: what are you reading this summer?

 

 

Unexpected Answers: What I learned when I asked people for their biggest faith questions

I asked people in my community, “What is your biggest question about Jesus, spirituality, Christianity or religion?” Based on those questions, I planned to preach a five week series called “Your Biggest Question” in May and June 2014.

But the questions I received were not even close to what I was expecting.

I’ll tell you what I expected. I expected questions about evil and suffering and the goodness of God.  I expected questions about other religions, questions about the exclusivity of Christianity, questions about the trustworthiness of the Bible. In short, I expected questions of the skeptical, seeking sort. And so I planned to prepare, you know, “apologetic for the Christian faith” messages. Heady stuff, intellectually brilliant, 😉 make C.S. Lewis proud kind of stuff.

Confession time: I thought I already knew what kind of questions I would get.  I’d even set aside a stack of my best apologetic books, featuring authors such as C.S. Lewis, N.T. Wright, Timothy Keller and Gregory Boyd, ready for my message preparation. But after the questions started rolling in, I put them back on the shelf. Yes, I did ask for questions honestly. Yes, I did really want to hear what people had to say. BUT, in actual fact, I thought I already knew what they would ask.Solving life's BIG questions

Was I wrong.  The questions were nothing like what I expected. They were much more personal, much more real. I received questions like “How can I help my marriage to flourish?”, “What did God create humans for, anyway?”  and “How do I overcome church hurt?”  Life questions, heart cries. The most common question raised was a variation on this theme: “How do I hear God’s voice?”  prompting me to take two weeks out of the five I’d planned to address just this question. (By the way, if you’re interested, you can listen to these messages here.)

Now, you may be thinking “that’s because your church is full of Christians and you don’t have seekers or skeptics in your community.”  Nope. It might surprise you to know that, in our church of 200+, with maybe 140 in average Sunday morning attendance, we’ve got a healthy number of spiritual seeking, previously unchurched, first-time faith explorers.  We’ve also got a significant group of folks who would be “new to faith” or just awaking to a long-time dormant faith.

I learned a few things through this experience.

1. I shouldn’t assume I know the questions without asking first. I need to ask and listen. I have grown so much in my understanding of the people in my community because I asked for this feedback. It is too easy to assume my people are asking questions that “others” are asking without taking the time to listen to the people who are right here. And who wants a pastor who is preaching an imaginative audience vs. the real people who are present?

2. People want practical help.  Folks (in my community, at least) do have intellectual faith struggles, but the dominant questions they are asking are pretty practical. Marriage, discernment, healing, purpose of life kinds of questions. They want God’s guidance in their daily lives, and that goes both for committed Jesus-followers and for people just beginning to follow Jesus who haven’t made any faith confession yet.

3. Discussion is important. Together, we can speak truth into each other’s lives as we address the questions that matter most. Some of you know, I often reserve some time toward the end of my messages for discussion, questions and conversation. During this series, our discussion times have been very lively. Last week, addressing the question “How do I overcome church hurt?”, I reserved even more time than normal, feeling strongly during my preparation that people needed to share with each other how they have overcome church hurt. We were not disappointed. During our discussion time, which you can hear in full on the audio recording (to be posted soon),  we had many people share how they have overcome personal hurt and moved toward healing. It was a rich and valuable experience for everyone. And I know the discussion continues far beyond our time on Sunday.

I’m glad we’ve grappled through some of our community’s Biggest Questions. We’ve learned a lot together, and I, as a pastor, have grown so much in my understanding of our church’s faith journey. Here’s my question for you: What kind of responses would you receive if you asked the people in your church for their biggest faith questions? Would the answers surprise you? Would they change the way you think about your community? Would they shift the quality of your conversations together?

I think they would.

Why don’t you try it? Ask, listen and see where the conversation goes. You might be surprised, but you won’t be disappointed.