“How do we speak of our faith in a society of many faiths and no faith, a society that has seen all too well the harm the church can inflict in the name of Jesus?”
This is one of the questions posed in the study guide for Gathering 2022, to be held in Edmonton this summer. There, people from all corners of Mennonite Church Canada will meet for conversation and decision making for the nationwide church. Both the event and the study guide go by the title, “We Declare: What We Have Seen and Heard.”
It’s a relevant question for a church with historical roots in a movement that spoke openly about the message of Jesus. For some of our ancestors in the faith, their speaking led to persecution and death.
In the 20th century, testifying about faith in evangelical circles sometimes required a certain formula: about how you had converted from a life of depravity to a life of holiness through a one-time encounter with the Saviour. Some of us remember the large evangelistic meetings that emphasized that kind of personal and dramatic transformation that didn’t always feel authentic.
With an eye toward past misdeeds in the name of Christianity, we see the ways in which the Christian message has sometimes harmed people—both outside and within the church. The temptation nowadays is to remain quiet about our experience of the Holy. Perhaps that is why we sometimes struggle to talk—even within church circles—about the joys and struggles of our faith.
And yet. . . . If we claim the liberating and powerful good news of Jesus, we will want to share it with those who don’t know him.
In her book, Tongue-tied: Learning the Lost Art of Talking about Faith, Sara Wenger Shenk writes of “ground rules for learning to talk about faith with authenticity, humility, love and conviction.” These will “provide sturdy ground from which to speak with moral integrity to our children—and to the listening world.” (To read an excerpt from the book, see “Learning fluency step by step.”)
Speaking with each other about our faith experience requires openness to God and to each other—a humble desire to listen and learn. This might be experienced in several ways within the household of faith.
Cultivating an awareness of God’s presence. We are invited to pay attention to how the Holy Spirit is present in one’s own life, in one’s ongoing journey of conversion. For this, some Christians practice the prayer of examen. This includes a review of each day’s events with the questions: “Where have you known the God of life today?” and “Is there anything you want to ask of God for the coming days?”
Losing inhibitions about using faith language in everyday life. At home and in church, our children and youth want to hear stories of how we experience God’s presence. With close friends and in small groups, we can share and encourage each other, knowing that each is on an individual spiritual path. This means putting aside formulas and “Christian-ese” and finding authentic ways to tell faith stories that feel true to who we are.
Reviving the practice of “testimonies” at church. The study invites a “curiosity about how God is active in our lives.” Some congregations practice this with a “sharing time” or “sharing of joys and concerns” during worship services, but those times can easily devolve into a simple listing of individual health concerns. In our corporate worship, we can find ways to encourage deeper testimony of spiritual joys and concerns, with stories of God-sightings in our lives and even honest sharing of doubts and questions. Congregations can be receptive to the many ways in which people experience spiritual growth.
Practices like these can transform our faith-speech from being a duty to being a part of a life authentically lived, with awareness of how God is present among us.
In the months leading up Gathering 2022, I plan to listen for stories of how Christians are seeing and hearing God active in their lives. Will you join me?
The guide “We Declare” can be downloaded from commonword.ca/Resource View/82/24191. To read inspiring personal stories of faith, check out the books, Godward and Fifty Shades of Grace, both available from commonword.ca.