Woven Together

This past weekend I had the opportunity to share a story with my church family on our annual retreat. I thought I’d share it here as well.

Our church has recently been emphasizing evangelism, specifically by individual church members in daily life as opposed to large church outreaches. At the forefront of this movement is the idea of “discovery groups,” organized by church members around a common activity or hobby to which they can invite non-church members. The main idea is to connect with the community in a non-threatening way. It gets non-Christians connected to Christians and gives Christians a chance to talk to them about Jesus while making friendships over, say, basketball or cooking or origami.

Great idea, right? But when I was handed a sheaf of paper full of details, logistics, and bullet points about this plan, I felt only resentment and frustration. For one, I was just sick and tired of how complicated and intimidating the church kept making these things. Can’t we talk about stuff in simple, straightforward ways that make sense to everybody? I mean, we don’t all have seminary degrees.

I also felt alienated by the nature of the plan in general. For a goal that the church was emphasizing as its primary vision for the future, it was very much geared toward extroverted people who were good at leadership and organization. Like people who were already pastors.

It made me angry. It was too complicated. It was too exclusive. Mostly, though, it hit me in a place that was already feeling sore about the church and my belonging in it.

Where was I supposed to fit? I’m an introverted bibliophile who chooses the paperwork jobs instead of the at-the-front-door-greeting-people roles. I sit in the back with my eyes closed instead of standing in the aisle with my hands raised. I pray for friends before bed or over coffee with them, not in the middle of a group of people at the altar after service.

It’s not that I’m ashamed of my faith. It’s the most important part of my life, my purpose, my joy and my hope. And I want everyone else to feel as loved by God as I do. I’m just not that person. I’m quiet. I’m shy. I’m in the background. I’m a perfect churchy version of a wallflower.

When it comes down to it, I just don’t really like people. I do fine at loving them in small numbers. But they’re scary, and sometimes hurtful, and always exhausting. I was just doing my best with the small group of close friends and acquaintances I could manage.

Was I doing something wrong? Did I need to change myself? Jesus talked about the left hand not knowing what the right is doing, and the blessings due to the meek. He often went off to pray by himself and tried to escape the crowds. He had only twelve close disciples and three trusted friends. Right?

I felt guilty. Just looking at the packet gave me an anxious stomachache.

I mean, I didn’t feel like I had anything to offer anyway. I didn’t have enough non-Christian friends to create a group. And nobody cared about my weird hobbies and interests. Everyone would just laugh and make fun of the girl who thought people would come to a social group all about the birth of the modern novel or the economic world of Charles Dickens.

So when I was urged to create a discovery group, my heart gave a resounding, injured no.

But my extroverted friends, Isabel and Heather, were super excited about the idea. They already had lists of people they knew they’d like to invite, tons of non-Christian friends who they couldn’t get to come to church but who would come to a discovery group. They just couldn’t come up with an idea for a group to invite them to.

Their devious solution: make me start a free crocheting class. They had the people. I had the skills.

I only agreed on the condition that this would not be a discovery group. It would just be me teaching crocheting to Isabel and Heather and their friends in a local coffee shop every other Saturday. Girls showed up, I taught them how to crochet, we talked about life and frustrations and relationships and religion.

Then I was asked by the pastors to talk about “my discovery group” as an example for the rest of the church at the annual retreat. And grudgingly, I finally had to admit that I had done exactly what that annoying, complicated guide was meant to encourage the congregation to do all along.

Yes, their method of communicating their goal might have been wrong. But I was wrong too for thinking that I had nothing to offer in forwarding that goal.

Yes, their wording excluded the introverted, the meek, the ones who aren’t good at networking. But it was selfish of me to think of my hobbies and activities as just mine, as something no one else might be interested in but me, as something God couldn’t use.

I realized I had matured enough to recognize that God made me the way I am, but not enough to realize that I could be used for evangelism as well as anyone else. Like Moses, I fell back on excuses provided by my weaknesses instead of asking God how He wanted to use those “weaknesses” He gave me.

I also made the mistake of thinking about evangelism as something I had to do on my own. I didn’t look around and see all the people who were good at what I wasn’t, the people who could fill in the gaps.

And the more I stepped back, the more I saw the metaphor right in my own hands. The church was a blanket.

In my crochet projects, it’s really boring to use only one color. But with a combination of contrasting colors, a project becomes uniquely beautiful and complex. It’s also a fact that each row is woven into those before it. If you try to rip out one color, the whole thing falls apart. Every row, every half inch, is created in inseparable connection to the last.

Progress is slow. The work tedious. Sometimes it feels like hours of work haven’t gotten you anywhere at all. But if you don’t give up, in the end you have a beautiful, useful final product.

I thought I had to be the only color, a boring, unlikeable tone. I didn’t see my place in the pattern. But working together, woven together, different colors made something beautiful. I didn’t have to be everything, just something. I didn’t have to knit everything together myself. Rather, I submitted myself to the Master Craftsman who made me just the way I am so I could represent a specific hue in the spectrum of his artistry.

We are each in fact what we’re meant to be, woven together to make something beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that we can’t even imagine the end result. So don’t be afraid. Open your eyes to the work going on around you, and like me, you will find your place in the beauty He makes.

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4 thoughts on “Woven Together

  1. What is striking to me about the evangelism strategy you outline (and sadly, it is nothing new) is its underlying assumption: Christians should “reach out” to non-Christians solely for the purpose of proselytizing. It does not seem to cross anyone’s mind that a Christian may want non-Christian friends because they might be thoughtful, kind, entertaining, reflective people. It seems a foreign concept that a Christian might want to befriend someone who believes differently because, well, that’s how we grow and learn and stretch ourselves–not to save them, but love them because they’re fellow human beings. Also, this approach to evangelism not only cheapens the unbeliever–making him or her into a target for manipulation instead of a thoughtful, mature adult with different beliefs–it adds a guilt burden to the Christian. It’s not enough to be loving, kind and hospitable to the unbeliever. If you fail to make “the pitch”, you have failed. What a limited, two-dimensional view of the complex value of interpersonal relationships.

    • I agree, which is why I didn’t like the way the church proposal was worded. It limited people as people, therefore also limiting the possibility of connection between people. It made it seem like a sort of sneaky way of pastors to do what they’re already usually doing.

      The great part about this idea, though, is that it’s not the same as the “traditional evangelism” you seem to be reacting against. It’s all about relationship, not message. It gives everyone a chance, Christian and non-Christian, to do exactly what you’re talking about: make interesting, intelligent friends not on the basis of a common religion but around a hobby or activity. The idea is not “going out,” but “being a part.”

      However, I think I hear you also reacting against the general idea of doing something like this in order to talk to people about beliefs. No, we aren’t just “reaching out” in order to convert. We genuinely care about the people we meet, make friendships, and find ways to care about each other in different ways. But neither do we avoid the topic of religion, especially as Christians, because our beliefs are the things that most define us. We don’t consider non-Christians to be less intelligent or valuable as people because they don’t believe the same we do (in fact, I’ve found that to be more characteristic of intellectual atheists in response to my “archaic” beliefs). But neither do we consider our beliefs as just a part of our existence that can be put out to the side if they might offend someone we know. Our beliefs shape our entire worldview and we believe that they are the truth. Therefore any time we are in a relationship with someone, Christian or non-Christian, that “pitch” will come up, like it or not.

      Sent from my iPad

  2. The common evangelistic paradigm has always caused consternation in my soul. While I am a personable individual and generally easy to talk to, I never feel included in a proposal that is driven by extroverted tactics. Although I am someone that might draft a bullet pointed plan of action described above, there simply is no way to outline how to give one’s life away for the sake of the Gospel. Life is fluid and organic, and I heartily believe that all Christians are meant to live within the tension of dependence upon the Holy Spirit’s lead during every moment of each day.

    Approaching evangelism this way has helped me cope with the risk inherent in it, giving me a chance to share my life; it allows me to build rapport with others by allowing the Spirit of God to work through every aspect of my nature. At work, my primary place of influence, I am challenged every day to live as if my actions are my words.

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