The Traveller’s Rest- That Awkward Question.

The Um!!! Moment.

Just the other week I had to go through one of those ‘um!!!’ moments again. You would think I would be used to it by now, that I would be able to give a nice slick, unembarrassed answer. That I would be able to reply without flinching and look them straight in the eye as I gave them my reply knowing that the problem was theirs and not mine. You would think a Holy Spirit boldness would come upon me and that I would feel no timidity or feel I have to be apologetic. I have to admit it does get easier over time but I still would not claim it is easy. Even now I pray that I might not run into certain people so that I have to try and answer this question again. You would think I could get a well rehearsed verse off pat, but when the question comes your way, even when prepared and maybe expecting it, it still takes you off guard for a while until the moment passes. I bet many of you are wondering what question I am talking about. Others who are on the journey will maybe already be identifying and whispering it under their breath. What is the question? Let me just tell you the story of the other week and then it will all become clear. My latest collision with the ‘um!!!’ moment.

Christchurch Connection.

On a Saturday night May 18th I was invited to share at a place called Christchurch in Aberdare. This small evangelical church invited me to one of their Saturday night rallies. People may ask me why I still accept such invitations, especially when this place still have what we would term a hymn/prayer sandwich. I have asked myself that many times, but then I meet the people after and speak to them and see Jesus in so many of them, these faithful servants who may never ever know another way of worship. I just have grown to love the people, many of them getting older, but great characters. To me it is not about the speaking, pulpits are a bit like Saul’s armour to me now, it is about people. Of course being a special there were some guests there who I had never met and I should have known this question would be coming, but if I am honest it caught me a bit off guard. First a Brazilian man sitting opposite me as I drank my after share tea, and a woman sitting next to me. Then as I was about to leave a man who was part of an Elim church who had picked up that I was an ex-Pentecostal minister. That question came from all angles. What is that question? It comes in two guises but are equally gnawing at you;

What church do you go to?

Where are you going now?

That Moment.

It is a moment that I am sure many of you face whether inside or outside of organised church structure. It seems to be the Christian equivalent of talking about the weather. It is that question that fills the awkward gap when we do not know what else to say or we are generally interested. The answer actually helps us shape an opinion on somebody, whether that opinion is right or wrong. If they belong to the same the tribe there is common ground, if not we can be on our guard! But when you belong to no particular ‘local’ church or congregation it is that million dollar question you do not want anyone to ask because for them it does draw a million and one conclusions. That you are a loose canon, that you are spiritually unsound, that you have a lack of commitment, that you must be hurt by the church, that you are a bit of a rebel, that it is just a phase that you are going through and you will soon find a remedy and a new spiritual home and be happy and content once again. How did I cope in the situations? I think I managed to look unfazed even if I was. I tried to be as honest as possible, I really did, but I do find myself softening the blow by saying things like ‘at this moment in time I am going nowhere’ or ‘at this moment in time I do not belong to any church’. I then find myself being a bit apologetic, ‘I’ve tried to fit in’, ‘we have looked around’, ‘nowhere feels like home any more’. I just wish I could be as bold as I am in these blogs. Sorry to burst your bubble about me but that old intimidation still rises up and makes me squirm. There is that fear of being rejected, which I have tasted much of and found it so bitter I try to live peaceably with all men if I can. Sometimes I feel it is no good casting pearls to certain people, and I am not being personal there, as I am sure Jesus wasn’t when He said it, it is just people will not understand so it is better and easier to flirt around the subject. I did finish all conversations with how I was now discovering the majesty and presence of God in all things around me, including the aisles of Asda. How I had never felt so close to God and content in and through much of my life. How the people around me were becoming the daily gathering and church that Christ was building. My prayer is that they at least grasped a bit of the truth in that that would set them free. Allison had noticed that I was fired that awkward question a few times tonight. She mentioned they might not ask me to go and share again. It honestly would be no loss to me anymore, my life is not built on what I do anymore. I was once a mean preaching machine but now I just love walking the garden with Jesus and anyone else who happens to be walking there too. But that question….that awkward question. It just keeps on popping up and seems to never go away.

Next Time.

When it comes next time I want to be prepared. I want to give a bold, honest, straight to the point answer about the failings of the structure and the freedom in the walk. I want to tell them the full story of my own journey through the pain and the isolation, to the place of walking the garden with him. the place of grace and love without performance and conditions. I want to tell them about what Jesus meant by church and what I have discovered about gatherings and fellowship. I want to tell them about broken relationships and new relationships. I want to tell them about the joy of flowing in the wind of the Spirit, wherever He takes me. I want to tell them about seeing God in and through everything, and that at the end of the day He is enough. I want to tell them that God does not live in brick and mortar but in and through people, even so called ‘pagans’ if we would just open our eyes to see. I want to tell them about conversations in the aisles and on the internet. That life is for the living and that truth is here to set them free not bind them up. There is much I would love to say. But you know when that awkward question comes again it may just take me off guard and I may not say any of this at all. But God knows my heart, my journey, my life, my all, and what I do pray is that if my words do not speak or stuttering things flow out, that He will communicate through a life that is lived. I know now even professional answers to this question will not impress Him or bring me a gold star. I am safe and secure in His arms whatever I reply. He knows my heart and reasons for reacting how I do, and He loves me passionately. The question may be an awkward moment, but there is now nothing awkward between Father and me. We simply dwell…

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8 thoughts on “The Traveller’s Rest- That Awkward Question.

  1. mismeret

    I’ve been asked the same question (especially when I was ‘between’) even though I’m part of a small informal group here. I too don’t always have the answers people are looking for. In one case a person introduced themselves to me by saying “I’m part of the leadership team here, where do you lead?” I said “I don’t and I never have and I don’t want to.” Silence. God gave me great grace to realise I was up against a way of thinking, a mindset – not the person. Then he gave me grace over time to realise it’s just where people are at.
    It still provokes me but it doesn’t embarrass me any more. I still want to challenge but I’m trying to see where they’re coming from and build relationship first. With that relationship (however distant) sometimes comes permission to discuss these things openly. I don’t push it. I don’t volunteer it but if I’m asked, I try, like you, to be up front and honest. I’m blessed to still be in relationship with folk within.
    In many eyes, I sit on the top of the fence, neither one thing nor another but my heart and spirit are over the fence, running free through the fields… I don’t mind being seen as being on the fence. It works for them. It maintains relationship, which I care about. It helps them feel secure. And I Rest. And Rest. And Rest. And enjoy them and him…oops. This is turning into a blog…! Nope. Nuff said.

    Reply
  2. Geoff Reed

    Hi Paul, knew straight away what the um! moment was, feel exactly the same way yet quietly confident in where I am, more so as the walk continues. Maybe I like you should try not to use my pat answer “we are all on different journeys” yet feel it is mainly for them that you don’t want to offend, like Jesus didn’t (not so). It’s a great walk though!

    Reply
  3. markrandallpixley

    I’ve found that question in a questionnaire lately…caught me off guard…headed on a missions trip to Cuba and the group behind it put out a pleading call for guys with construction ability to help in a womens shelter, things I am very much in support of and with 30 years of construction experience they were excited for me to sign up…then I got the “form” where do you go? How long have you gone? Who is you Pastor? Have them fill out this recommendation please!
    They are excited to have me, but have not gotten my response yet…and my “old me” is very much wanting to fill out the forms with all sorts of snarky answers…

    “I don’t go to church I am the church
    I’ve been the church since before I was born.
    Jesus is my Shepherd, I’m sure he’d love to recommend me.

    For me the trip is about serving and testing the waters for Cuba…I am not at all interested in rebuilding some empire things, but helping empower women, and providing shelter for them is something I can certainly get behind…

    But yeah the questions really feel intrusive, like how many times do you and your spouse have sex? It’s that same sort of feeling…because the follow up question feels like a “trap” question, you know any answer is wrong…”How long has it been since you stopped beating your wife?”…

    So I have begun to respond more like Jesus would by answering questions with a question…

    Q:”What church do you go to?”
    A:”Which one would you LIKE me to go to?” and why?

    Its sort of a subtle way to suggest the question is unimportant…depending on their response.

    Reply
  4. markrandallpixley

    There is one other thought that never really gets uncovered, probably because we get distracted by our own lack of place…but there is a subtle and unspoken bit of hypocrisy in our modern churches over this question…

    Most sheeple believe (at least on an unconscious level) that the truly great ones, the truly giant spiritual Fathers (always seems to be male by the way) don’t need to be “under” some church somewhere…and implied in this metric is the idea that eventually if I serve enough, play my cards right, become significant, then I too can travel around and preach un-encumbered by being :”local” somewhere…

    The average person would not think to ask the big guns “Oh where do you go to church?” because we assume they have matured past such trivial things…

    Maybe an honest answer to the question would be “I go to the same church all the big name travelling APEST guys go to…

    Reply
  5. Wol Ulchabhan

    Ah Mark, the good ol’ “APEST”. I remember that one. My inner curmudgeon is kicking in with a snarky word play . . . ” A Pest!” I’ll go repent now . . . 😉

    Reply
  6. Sara

    Brilliant comments, thanks guys. I love answering this question – I say “brought up a Methodist, trained at Pentecostal Bible college, minister in the local Anglican churches because when you live in a Cambridgeshire village that’s where the community is, but at heart I’m a Quaker”. I find that covers all bases!

    Reply
  7. John Matthews

    Nice dialogue everyone. I’ve kind of settled on “I am the church” but have also found that the longer that I have been in this outside the walls life that the questions are much less frequent. Possibly I am learning to carry myself differently and for some reason people sense the question is unnecessary?

    Reply

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