I don’t consider myself a confrontational person.  I prefer to give people space and not push them.  Unfortunately, this can be a drawback in my line of work.  I’ll admit that I’ve gotten bolder over the few short years I’ve been in the ministry professionally.  It gets easier as I realize that, because of my title, people expect a bit of a nudge.

So towards the end of my conversation with a man today as we discuss a memorial service for his father, whom he described as deeply faithful and Christian, I went ahead and nudged.  Where do you go to church?  Pause.  When I go, I go to ______________.   And after a short silence, he followed with a little of his story.  His doubts.  His wonderings.  And his gradual transition in the past few years from a relatively firm agnosticism to a more deliberate theism.

I like the opportunity to encourage people at this point.  Perhaps they expect that I’m going to yell at them (assuming they don’t know me!) or criticize them from wandering away from the faith or for their tentativeness as they talk about a nascent faithfulness.  Perhaps they’re surprised when I commend them for not wanting to leave their brains at the door to enter a church.  It’s unfortunate that so many of them feel that way, perhaps because they’ve encountered congregations or pastors who couldn’t or wouldn’t deal with questions.

I like questions.  First and foremost because they push me to think.  Sometimes they help me go over things I don’t think about very often.  Sometimes they cover ground that I’m very familiar with in terms of my own questionings.  I like questions because after years of reading anti-Christian writings and talking with people from a very broad spectrum of faiths or no faiths, I realize that questions are not terrifying, by and large.  There are things Christians don’t have all the answers for.  That goes the same for biologists and physicists and philosophers.  It’s OK to say I don’t know.  It’s OK to say Let me get back to you on that one (so long as you actually do!).  To presume that faith comes into full bloom without any questions, and never questions anything afterwards, seems radically naive and pretty intimidating.

This is one of the reasons I plan to begin offering a monthly gathering at our church.  No church people invited.  This meeting is just for outsiders.  Or the nones or the uncommitted or whatever they consider themselves.  People who maybe have been hurt in or by the Church.  A time and a space to get together and talk.  A no holds barred opportunity to ask questions, to try and figure out what Christianity and the Bible really say on certain topics.  A place to acknowledge that sometimes asking questions and hearing answers (or recognizing that there are no easy answers) is an important step on the road to faith.  We’ll sit down over coffee or maybe whiskey.  Maybe just one other person (the gentleman today said he would be interested in that sort of thing).  Maybe a dozen.  Who knows?  I’d hate to think that everyone who isn’t going to church doesn’t have any questions they’d like to ask, given the right circumstances and setting.

This idea was planted by some of the discussion in Strasbourg this summer.  One of the lecturers said he’d been asking congregations to do this for years, and so far nobody had taken him up on it.  That’s kind of depressing if that’s really true.  What a great opportunity to meet people and hear what they have to say and have the opportunity to speak with the Bible says, what Christianity says!

Maybe the ability to ask a question is a kind of nudge to the asker.  If so, I should be willing and able to help that nudge occur.  Maybe you should too, in your own situation and context.


2 Responses to “Nudges”

  1. Lois Says:

    I’m trying to picture what this would look like for a lay person. Especially an introverted lay person with no talent for organizing gatherings. I can see myself welcoming people for tea or even a meal and discussion — I just can’t see myself actually inviting anyone.

    Please feel free to invite some people to my house ;-)

    • mrpaulnelson Says:

      Good point – not the inviting people to a small gathering thing, but rather the nudge. ‘Hey, I go to church at _____. Where do you worship?’ Or just an invitation to church. Predicated (most ideally) on some comment that might lead you to expect that they are at least spiritual if not religious.

      Yes, I didn’t mean to suggest everyone ought to invite agnostics and atheists to their house for tea and casual grilling (conversation). Though perhaps that’s not such a bad idea, if one happens to know some agnostics/atheists on a friendly basis!

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