Today I’d like to piggyback on Thursday’s post – Stop Tweeting and Try Listening, We All have so much to Learn – by talking about my Saturday morning men’s group and our wide-ranging conversation about faith.
“One of the things I love about this church is how we can have these kinds of conversations,” one man said, “without being criticized for questioning dogma or being suspect for not thinking in lockstep…”
He was talking about honesty, about supporting one another on this journey of following Jesus, about sharing our doubts, about tough give and take with God, and about being open when people ask a thousand and one questions that simply don’t have tidy answers.
Your God is too Small:
Years ago – after months of trying – I finally got an occasional reluctant church-attender, a young man on the periphery of belief, to participate in a men’s small group study. Just the second week in he felt comfortable enough to air some of his fears and doubts, and I was thrilled at how open he was willing to be.
A few days later I discovered one of the men had sent him a critical email saying, “You shouldn’t ask those kinds of questions”, and “It’s wrong not to accept what you’ve been taught about God”, and “I think you should keep your doubts to yourself”. Not only did the young man drop out of the group but – despite my best efforts – he never showed up at church again.
As for the man who drove the questioner away, we met a few times to talk about what happened, but it wasn’t long before he found another congregation – one where his disdain for honest dialogue was part of the culture. Dogma there was fine-tuned to the extent that he was affirmed in his chauvinism, buoyed in his bigotry, encouraged in his intolerance, and further trained in his judgmentalism.
Back to Good Conversation:
So this morning eight honest men sat around in easy-chairs at my church, drinking coffee and talking about our personal faith in the context of C.S. Lewis and the first few chapters of Mere Christianity.
We explored our own walk with God, we talked about the amazing invitation Jesus always is, and we marveled at what becomes possible once we realize that we need a reconciled, renewed, restored relationship with God.
We shared what we’re confident about, and we aired some of our questions too. We encouraged one another in this ongoing journey that is a life of faith, we prayed for peace and for the courage to follow Jesus, and we acknowledged the incompleteness of our knowledge compared to the infinite truth about God that cannot be hedged in by our constant need to control the message.
We are sure in our salvation (that is, the opportunity we have accepted to participate in God’s ongoing initiatives of love and grace and healing and promise) and yet at the same time we remain curious as to how God will work out the details for those who remain in the dark when it comes to Christ’s wide-open invitation.
This is – these men are – what the Body of Christ looks like, and I am grateful for this place. Because church should never be experienced as a gathering where pat answers are offered like so much bromide, where authenticity rocks the boat, or where honesty is discouraged because the god presented is far too small to handle doubt, or tough questions, or anger, or intellectual curiosity.
Okay, so I’ve been rambling again. For what it’s worth – DEREK
Derek has published seven books in the past decade (you can find them at https://www.amazon.com/Derek-Maul/e/B001JS9WC4), and there’s always something new in the works.
Before becoming a full-time writer, Derek taught public school in Florida for eighteen years, including cutting-edge work with autistic children. He holds bachelor’s degrees in psychology and education from Stetson University and the University of West Florida.
Derek is active in teaching at his church: adult Sunday school, and a men’s Bible study/spiritual formation group. He enjoys the outdoors, traveling, photography, reading, cooking, playing guitar, and golf.