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Students at commencement

Ministry in Context

The view from the other side

In my “family of origin” we used one particular phrase to describe those people who went to church on Christmas and Easter every year. “C & E Christians?” “Christmas and Easter Christians?” No.

We called them “Religious Fanatics.” It was hard for us to imagine why anybody would go to church that often. Most years--most--we made it for one holiday or the other. That was plenty.

My parents did not dislike the pastors of the church we technically belonged to. No particular quarrel with the members. Not alienated by anything specific. Going to church was just something we didn’t do.

I can remember a time or two when we went for one of those special events, and the pastor made some snide remark about those who only came for the holidays. One remark like that would pretty much guarantee that the church wouldn’t see us again for a very long time. Guilt really isn’t a very effective motivator, and neither is an overly effusive greeting or being fawned over.

I have always appreciated the experience of growing up in my family because it has given me a different perspective on things that many of my colleagues over the years who grew up in good church-going families don't have. Life-long church-goers tend to assume that church-going is the default position for ordinary people, and that those who don’t go to church have made some specific decision to stay away from church. I know from personal experience that for many ordinary people not going to church is the default position, and going represents a specific decision.

In the next few weeks there will be lots of people in your churches who are not normally there. Maybe they will be visitors; maybe they will just be members who don’t come around very often. Resist the temptation to take potshots at them. Potshots certainly won’t bring them back very soon! Respect them. Welcome them. And give them space. Trust that God is at work on them and in them.

Look at me.

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