See the church in someone else’s shoes

6 December, 2013 — 3 Comments

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it. [Spoken by Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird“, by Harper Lee (1960)]

The quote above and the play on the saying in the heading are known for their attempt at getting us to consider understanding others: people not like me.

Bourke-St-shoe-shop-Mike-Crudge-570

If church people are serious about what some of us call “mission”, or evangelism, or simply any sensible, authentic and transparent connection with Christian spirituality and people not part of the church, we need to consider and apply the type of understand the above quote is getting us to think about. How do people outside your local church context understand the church? …understand your church?

The church is very visible in contemporary society. It is almost certain that any adult who has been socialised in New Zealand, will have some perception of the church, no matter how minimal, because there are things in this country that either publicly display the church or are bound historically to church tradition, for example:

  • It is impossible to drive through a New Zealand town or city without seeing church buildings, although sometimes these are now cafes, restaurants, art galleries, shops, or houses.
  • Two of New Zealand’s longest statutory holidays are focused around Christian traditions: Christmas (the birth of Jesus), and Easter (now the death and resurrection of Jesus).
  • Significant events that cause the country to pause and ponder also show clear representation of the church, such as Sir Edmund Hillary’s funeral in January 2008 – where prayer, homilies and other Christian traditions were observed either live or on prime-time news bulletins.
  • Across the country, ANZAC Day dawn services now attract thousands of attendees who stand through a traditional church service with hymns, prayers, and homily.

There are many other less passive examples that display the church in society, and I would like to talk about them another time.

My point

The central issue for me when trying to understand people not part of the church, is not whether New Zealanders know of the church; rather, it is what meanings they make in connection to the church when they personally encounter “the spiritual” in their own lives.

Or, to put it another way, if for some reason a person not part of the church gains some sort of spiritual curiosity, in their understanding of the church through their socialised experience, would they consider the church a helpful place to explore this new spiritual curiosity? Or would their default place for exploration be something/somewhere else?  Google perhaps?…

As you consider your own church’s engagement with it’s local context, is it useful for you to imagine being in the shoes, or skin, of someone not part of the church? Do you ever do this?

If you saw your church in someone else’s shoes today, what would you see?

Image: Bourke Street shoe shop, Melbourne, Mike Crudge.

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  • DrDon

    Hi Mike – This thread parallels the one on perceptions, both in content and in my comment about a lack of comments. If I were to put ‘someone else’s shoes on’, I would probably come up with a few thoughts that are somewhat similar to your list of perceptions. Alternatively, I can look at your list of perceptions and accept that they would summarize what I would see if I did put someone else’s shoes on. Unfortunately, the more I ponder these perceptions, the more difficult I can see it would be for people to respond to God’s gift of a Saviour. In other words, they have to overcome these problems as well as accepting that they are in need a saviour. This leads us to an unacceptable conclusion in that what the Church is communicating to the world around it, is actually is making it more difficult to respond to Christ.

    • Hi DrDon, and happy new year! (I’ve had a wee break from the blog over the summer-slowdown…).

      What you’re talking about here is a bit like what author and pastor Dan Kimball adds to that old evangelical Christian illustration which describes humanity’s journey to God separated between two cliff-tops by a chasm called “sin”. Humanity is on the cliff-top on one side of the chasm and God is on the cliff-top on the other side. In the traditional use of this illustration Jesus becomes the bridge over the chasm, meaning faith in Jesus is what bridges over “sin”, and when this is illustrated diagrammatically a cross is literally drawn between the two cliff-tops creating a bridge over “sin”.

      Kimball adds a second chasm between humanity and God which he says has been created by Christians and the church, by their “rhetoric and attitudes which have led people today to harbour negative perceptions of Christians and Christianity that prevent them from trusting them and being interested…” (They like Jesus but not the church, 2007, p. 236).

      Kimball’s point is: rather than helping to bridge the chasm, Christians are creating another.

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