Walking together by Stewart Perry

Last Saturday night Will Graham, grandson of the late Billy Graham, probably the best known Evangelist in the western world, lead a evangelistic event on the Gold Coast at the Convention Centre. I’m still thinking through & processing much of what happened that night & in the lead up to the event. I will be very interested in what emerges from the night. Certainly there was a packed auditorium & there was a large number of people “coming forward” to commit or recommit their life to Jesus of all ages & stages. The youngest I noticed would have been around 6 or 7 years old while the oldest looked like they were in their 90s.

I recognise that this is not everyone’s cup of tea, particularly the music that was used. I loved it & my son Caleb who was with me seemed to love it, but I know that not everyone would have found the music uplifting or inspirational… however from what I could see most did.

Many of you know that I love statistics… One of the organising team told me on the night of the event that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association reached out to 420 churches from Brisbane to the Tweed. Of that number they had some form of contact & engagement with around 380. Yet by the night of the event there were only around 40 churches who they considered were actively involved in supporting the event. We were one of those churches.

I can understand that churches have different things to focus on, I also understand that what happened on Saturday night might not be the way that some churches do things … it was certainly very different to the way that we do things. I understand that some would disagree with the approach while others, including myself, were interested to see if the approach still worked.

What I struggle to understand is why we can’t be more active in our support of the different expressions of Church, mission or ministry that might be different to ours. Are we so arrogant & ignorant to think that there’s only one way to connect people Jesus & “do church”… & that’s our way…

This sort of arrogance & ignorance isn’t limited to inter church relationships, it’s also something that many churches struggle with, ours sometimes included. Within a church we can struggle with expressions of community that we might not like, understand or connect with… and yes music is often a catalyst for disagreement.    

One solution is to try & keep as many people happy by offering a range of diverse services & activities to try & cater for everyone. Most churches do this to some extent & our church is no exception. We have 2 very different church services on a Sunday. I love both, but not everyone does… even within congregations there can be battle lines formed over worship elements, logistics, or relationships. Offering pockets of connection is not a bad thing in & of itself, we certainly relate well to people who are like us, like the same things as us & can relate to the experiences we’ve had. However, grouping people together into clusters of like mindedness is not only the most draining model of church when it comes to resources, it also limits our exposure to & understanding of people who aren’t like us… & it’s connecting with people who are not like us that’s going to grow the church.

I remember doing a program in a juvenile justice system with Leanne when she was pregnant with Anika. It’s a bit like Cursillo or Alpha for people in jail. A number of people who were leading the program with us tried to relate to the kids by sharing their personal stories of addiction & times of trouble… but as they shared their stories of “we’re just like you” Leanne & I could see the eyes of the young people glaze over as they said with their body language “you’re nothing like us – how could you understand”. Leanne & I didn’t have any addiction history & we’d been pretty good people all our lives… so we didn’t ever try to pretend we were anything like the inmates – in fact I think we were pretty open that we weren’t anything like them… however we both wanted to get to know these people & help them know Jesus. It was our authentic differences that were the pathway to connection not our superficial similarities. In hindsight it should have been no surprise that they seemed to relate to & connect with us better than some of the others in the group.

I wonder what church would be like if we were not only more tolerant of difference, less critical of things we didn’t like or agree with & were just more authentic but with an open handedness & open heartedness to people & parts of church life that were very different to us… even music.

There’s a phrase we are starting to use in the church unity movement on the Gold Coast. We walk together in all things & we work together in some things.

I think this works for our local church too. We don’t need to do everything together, but we can cheer all things on… but most importantly we can walk together even if… especially if we are different.

Sometimes walking together might mean singing along to a song that we don’t really like because we know that it has meaning to someone else.