Sunday, October 07, 2007

The value of not drawing attention to ourselves

Over at the continually provocative View from the basement, Brodie poses an interesting question about what word best describes the post-Christendom church if power describes Christendom. There have been lots of good suggestions. I went for anonymous and justified it by saying the following:

'I think 'anonymous' is a possible way of contrasting Christendom and post-Christendom. The church under Christendom was all about profile as well as power, it's about seeking attention from the world, the church has a 'look at me' mentality because it believes that if the world looks at the church, it will believe it's message. This is nonsense, of course, in our changed world. Anonymity provides us with the opportunity to live our lives as followers of Jesus without that living being distorted by the thought of having an audience. It gives us the possibility of being stumbled over by those who didn't know they were looking for us and who in finding us enter a conversation of equals. Maybe I'm just being optimistic and maybe I'm feeling the pressure of feeling constantly in a goldfish bowl in the church I lead! I also don't think it contradicts Jesus calling us the salt of the earth and light of the world because I'm not sure that our being these things ought to be a self-conscious act on our part that invites attention being paid to us. after all, a candle does not sit on the table saying 'look at me', it provides light so that we can see other things. likewise salt preserves or makes things grow (whichever interpretation we go for) and doesn't draw attention to itself - unless there's so much of it that it swamps every other flavour (hardly what Jesus had in mind). '

At the conference I attended last week we had an excellent plenary given by Maeve Sherlock, former head of the Refugee Council, adviser to Gordon Brown and just embarking on a PhD in theology at Durham. She has only come to faith within the last few years and spoke of her attitude towards the church before meeting Jesus.

Basically, she said, she felt the church was invisible, having no impact on her life, no call on her time and certainly no message worth her while pausing to reflect on. She just didn't see it. It was completely anonymous.

However, looking back, following her conversion, she said she began to note individuals and organisations who had left a mark because there was something about them. In particular, a number of individuals who worked with refugees and their families who'd impressed her at the time because of their concern for and commitment to the needs of refugees, who she now discovers are Christians.

It was the cumulative effect of so many 'anonymous' Christians, just getting on with doing what God had called them to do, that she believes was a key factor in God drawing her to himself. Had these individuals or groups been constantly shouting 'look at us - we do this because we're Christians', she'd have been repelled and run a mile.

So maybe a key value for Christian groups as well as individuals doing stuff in the community is this: just do it - don't justify it, theologise publicly about it, put Christian badges on while you do it - just do it...

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