Open mouth, insert what’s real

by Kristin on September 26, 2008

in Belief, doubt & hope

Every other Wednesday, Jason and I get together with our small group from church (that’s pretty much us, above). First we share a meal, then we try to figure out what the Bible is saying and where it intersects with our daily lives. We don’t always have answers, but we’re never lacking in lively discussion.

This week, Jeff, our church’s Mercy and Justice Pastor (front left in pic), tossed this question into the ring: What keeps us from reaching out more—sharing our story, volunteering, inviting people to church, that kind of thing?

People immediately shared a variety of ideas, without having to dig much. Humans are good at excuses. Ours ranged from “I don’t know who I’m supposed to be reaching out to,” to “I feel overwhelmed,” to “I typically reach out in more subtle rather than direct ways—I focus on preparing soil and planting seeds.”

The most widely agreed-upon response, though, was fear—primarily our fear that non-Christians will dismiss us as soon as they discover what we believe. They’ll put up defenses, turn all the stereotypes on full blast (“Christians aren’t thinking, intelligent people,” and “they’re judgmental and narrow-minded”), and generally shut us out. I touched on this a few posts back, in God, irony and rain.

The morning after our small group discussion, I was surprised to see this blog post: What holds you back? It’s by Noel Heikkenen, a guy I went to high school with who is a pastor at a vibrant, young church near Michigan State University. In his post, Noel asks his readers essentially the very same question my small group was discussing 300 miles away the night before: What keeps you from “going all out for Jesus?”

The reader responses on Noel’s blog run the gamut: fear of failure, insecurity, embarrassment, life’s hectic pace, lack of discipline, selfishness, laziness. It’s the same list that keeps us from doing anything we really want to do, right? Whether it’s writing a book, volunteering at the shelter, making a career change, learning to play an instrument—you name it.

But the one response that was mentioned in the comments of Noel’s blog, again and again, was the same general fear my small group narrowed in on: What will people think about me?

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to be less worried about what people think. Ironically though, along the way, I’ve also discovered that most non-Christians actually don’t think the things I imagine they do. Sure, they’re fully aware there are a lot of proud, non-discerning, judgmental Christians out there. But I’ve been gradually accepting that they don’t automatically assume the worst of all of us. When I am convinced they’re thinking “What a freak she must be to buy into that crap,” it’s more likely they’re actually thinking “Wow, that’s really unexpected and interesting. I wonder what her story is.”

When it gets down to it, that’s all I really want, anyway: a good, open, honest conversation, both with people who think and believe like me and those who don’t. It’s not about debating or convincing, it’s about simply being open to conversation, sharing my story and hearing theirs. That’s a kind of interaction most people are willing to engage in; I think, in fact, most people are hungry for it. And there’s nothing to fear—or to lose—in that.

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  • Noel

    Good thoughts on this, Kristen. I’m pretty stoked about this series, especially since the blog post. To be honest, the responses were not what I expected. Now I have a totally different direction for the messages than I thought I was going to have.

    Love how that works.

  • Alyssa

    Oh, how I miss all of you!!! I miss going to small group with ya’ll.