why I am learning to like and value all kinds of christians but especially the ol' kinda ones

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As part of the best of the guest series, here is a piece that I posted on my blog recently which I would like to share with you and hear your thoughts on. Thank you!

One of the tensions that i feel when i participate in conversations with those who identify ourselves with the emerging church is a sense of frustration that there is with the wider church that people seem to feel/express. Brian McLaren might have written about an emerging a new kind of christian but i'm not so sure he was thinking that we would be such a cantankerous kind!

I'd like in this piece to explore with you how such frustration can be a spiritual discipline in its own right and then look at 4 ways that i am growing to appreciate and value all kinds of christians, especially the old kind...

I know myself that I have experienced frustration and anger with what, when being polite, may be termed the modern church, the established church, the traditional church etc, sometimes with additional adjectives such as conservative, evangelical, fundamental, liberal etc...

I say it is a tension as over the last few years I have come to feel that frustration and anger is not always helpful, not least because it leaves me:

• making generalisations [sweeping and otherwise]; • labelling and judging people; • feeling that i am right and others are wrong; • increases my indulgence in resentment/bitterness/moaning; and • feeling negative about the whole idea of church and increasing my consumeristic tendencies.

In short all the things that I thought were bad about the church I am equally as guilty of and no doubt even more self righteous about!

Exploring the spiritual discipline of frustration

I have come to realise that frustration is not always such a bad thing, particularly if frustration is a motivation that leads me to:

• motivating decision making, • self evaluation/judging, • growing aware of/addressing character weaknesses, • practically helping people, • seeking opportunities for conversation, • seeking to pray for, love and understand people [where they are] more than I am loved and understood myself.

I am not saying that this is an easy process, for example, whilst still serving in my last church, I still wanted to be connected but I stepped down from a lot of leadership roles as I knew the temptation to use my position to undermine would be too much, far better to not give my anger and frustration that sort of platform. Instead I sought to support people who were leading, to encourage them, to reach out to people who were dissatisfied and help them with their own anger. I tried to channel my frustration into being the sort of Christian i thought i should be: practising generosity, honesty, love etc rather than insisting every one should do it the way that I thought it should be done

For me it became a spiritual discipline. I remember listening to sermons and rather than just being frustrated that the 'right words' weren't being said I instead sought to not wait for church to validate my version of christianity but to live it instead. When i disagreed with a talk instead of dismissing it I tried to think through the 'why' of that and to see that often the points being made were valid and that they, together with my own thoughts, often added a balance. often it was a case of that language was different and I didn't like it - a matter of style rather than a disagreement with orthodoxy/substance.

Four thoughts on why I am learning to like and value all kinds of christians but especially the ol' kinda ones...

I been spending the last few weeks thinking about why I value inclusivity rather than exclusivity and the following are some thoughts about why I feel I should value all forms of christianity, whether they are old kinds of christian or a new kind...

1. Heritage

There is no getting away from it I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the conservative evangelical and charismatic traditions I have been part of. It was these tradition that taught me so much about what it is to be a christian, e.g.:

• they gave me a love for encountering God in the bible and today; • the foundation to think and ask questions about God, the world, purpose of life; • the experience of being guided by the Holy Spirit, spiritual gifts, healings and other God inspired life transforming and enriching encounters; • a fine understanding of orthodoxy; and • a desire to love God in thought, action, experience and emotion...

If it wasn't for the people of these traditions serving God as faithfully as they know how and with the best of intentions passing on their faith/expeeience/love to me than I doubt I would be writing about matters of faith at all.

It makes me think of that other most difficult and frustrating time of my physical life which was my teenage yrs and the struggle to find my identity as a person - seperate/independent yet still related/connected to my parents. In the same way I see the struggle to find my 'spiritual identity' and to do so with a healthy relationship with my 'spiritual parents' is one that is equally hard a time of transition for both child and parent. Understanding how hard it is for those 'parents' might make me more generous and kinder - it is not because they hate me and are out to frustrate me but becaause they love me and don't want to see me hurt, are uncertain about what will happen when they let go and even how fast to do so. Questions of freedom, of maturity of respect matter immensely and one where I think i would find it healthier [and demonstrate these qualities] by following the advice of the bible on how to treat parents and seek to honour/appreciate my church family/heritage [even if they do frustrate me at times - and me them...]

Note to self: blood is thicker than orthodoxy after all :)

2. Character

One of the recent thoughts I have had is that God is not concerned about making me happy - in the sense of how i see happiness [healthy, wealth, new 40 inch LCD tv, easy life etc] but is more interested in me developing a mature Christ-esque character. This rthought coupled with my recent fave quote - that hanging out with people who i agree with, people who think the same as me, people who are like me makes a clique not a community - makes me appreciate the character growing process of experiencing all kinds of christians, especially the ones that I disagree with the most [at least in maters of style, expression etc].

In other words rather than belittling people for not getting me maybe instead I should invest time in trying to get them, to explain myself, to open myself up to critique rather than to seek to critique them.

Maybe if I really believe in a generous orthodoxy I should start living that out by being generous to the conservative/modern [etc] parts of the church?

Perhaps if being a christian is about love and if Jesus said that the ultimate mark of the church would be the love that the people who followed him showed one another, then I should be more loving, more generous, kinder, softer, less angry and more hopeful? Rather than shaking my head at their foolish/outmoded ways maybe I should consider whether my own life of faith is really better, or am I maybe better in some areas but far worse in others making me less overall? [Why do I hear my mother saying - when you point with one finger, three fingers point back at you?]

What if God is serious about growing patience, love, kindness, mercy, grace, encouragement, passion, generosity, faith and self control [etc] in me - what better way than in/through/by encountering people who stretch me in all of these ways? In trying to build relationships with people who I struggle with and seeking to live a life that is a blessing to them, that is about giving myself away rather than trying to get what I want from them?

And what better way then by exposing how when I try and do so I promptly fail because my reserves of love et al are remarkably low for any one else other than me? Thus reminding me that this is not about what I can do but what God does in my weakness, not my strength - that his kingdom is a work of the Holy Spirit and therefore I need to seek God first - i need to ask God for the patience I need, for the love I need and keep asking him to grow me so I can love more because I am seeking to love more?

3. Deep church

I hinted at this above - if I really believe in a generous orthodoxy should I not be equally generous with the modern church? If I believe that it takes all sorts of different churches to reach all sorts of different people and that part of my call as a christian who is loved by Christ to love everyone, including those people who follow him as well - then maybe I should be asking different sort of Qs?:

What if it is not just about creating another stream of church but looking at opportunities to work together as different churches, where it is not so much my mission but our mission, where the people who are served by the church who don't care which church it is but love the fact that some one cares about them?

A place where the huge amount that the church as a whole has in common is not overshadowed by the small differences of language, emphasis, style?

A church where we look at the bigger picture, where we are cheered on by a great cloud of witnesses from all denominations and seek to encourage, support and look out for all christian here on earth?

What do I need to do differently? What aspects of negativity or polarity or kingdom building do I need to shelve in order to be more generous? Not only should i ask myself what it costs but what price I am prepared to pay? If being a follower of Jesus is about seeing his kingdom come and his will being done rather than my will/kingdom than maybe I need to trust Jesus more and me less with the answers? What does it mean to seek the kingdom of God first in this context? What does it mean to think about loving and appreciating all my christian cousins? What does it mean to validate them as much [if not more] than I want to be validated myself?

4. Global conversation

Finally, I am conscious that a lot of what I feel is only applicable within my western cultural context, which is a post-church one - a lot of my frustration on style of church is pretty meaningless when people can't be bothered with church in the first place.

We might live in the 'whatever' generation but for me I'd rather care enough to engage with church and participate with in it. I have a deep love and appreciation for the church, yes it might lumber but at its best it is a body that is revolutionary. For example its very essence is counter-cultural in its desire/expression to permeate the dominant cultural motiff of a life that is all about: 'me, who is important, my life to live how I like so don't judge, and its myself first and others only if i can be bothered.' Ironically such liberation needs to start at home as I am chronically addicted to such a cultural existence that if I can't consumer my out of a situation, if it requires commitment rather than a one off transaction, time rather than a flash of the credit card, serving rather than expecting service 24/7 then I struggle...

But more than my own cultural context there is a whole world in Africa and Asia where christianity is different again, where culture is different again - to assume that my issues are the normative would I think be grossly short sighted and further evidence of my own self love.

In the context of a global conversation I need to think about how my actions impact on the world, issues like trade justice and the environment become not just causes to consume for but challenges for long term commitment that will cost me and my time and treasures...

And here comes the nub - Christ loves the church, we're that imperfect bride, we're not a super model, we're not a gold digger, we're not after a sugar daddy we're just average people trying to love him back. All of us have are being revealed by Jesus - revealed to have beauty in ways we could not imagine, revealed to have a worth that we never thought we could possess, revealed to revel in a life that is beyond ourselves, that is not about getting what we can but giving ourselves away, giving ourselves up to him... and we get to that together, to see each other the way he sees us, to call out the God colours in each of us and to cheer each other down the aisle...

So next time...

I feel tempted to write the trad church this or the conservative church that... to rant at a grey monolith, to make a sweeping generalisation, to score an easy point, to poke fun at a person's or denominations blind spot or weakness I hope I will stop, reread and delete. I hope I can be specific, i hope i can share experiences in a way that is both positive and real to how I feel. I hope that instead of pointing the finger I can instead offer an embrace. I hope that I can be honest, real, gracious and loving and extend all of that first without the expectation that it be extended back to me but with a undying hope that it will be.

Instead of making it about them and us, maybe I'll make it just about me - or it that is too self centred - maybe just us.

Maybe... afterall the story doesn't end here and I still have a lot of growing and loving to do. At least i don't have to do that alone...

Paul Mayers