Moved Mountains

Banner - Mt Trio, Stirling Range National Park, Western Australia - (c) 2007

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Like a Chameleon - Looking Like we Belong

What's with the chameleon?

I had an interesting chat today with a cop, who I later on found out was also a follower of Jesus and engaged in a bit of incarnational ministry himself (although he, like so many who are doing "it", had never heard the term before).

He was telling me about an experience he had about 20 years ago when he was given the job of being one of the first school based police officers in the state.

He was dropped off on the first morning of his job at one of the toughest schools in the metropolitan area, dressed in his uniform, without any relevant training, in a school that had never had anyone in a similar role previously (no schools at that time had). And he was expected to somehow engage with the student population in a meaningful way.

The principal told him to take a seat on a concrete platform at the front of the schools assembly area and wait for students to approach him so he could start interacting with them. What he found out pretty soon was that the students didn't like cops. In fact, he reckoned that to say they hated cops wouldn't have been an understatement.

So on the first day, and for the first 3 months he was sworn at, verbally abused and "oinked" at (police officers are known as "pigs" by some in Australia). It didn't take him long to realise he wasn't getting anywhere, and after several months, he says, he was ready to chuck the whole thing in.

Then one of the sports teachers pulled him aside and suggested he start getting involved in some of the outdoor activities offered by the school. The teachers thinking was, that if he could get out of his uniform and get alongside the students as a mate, rather than as a cop, he might get somewhere.

You can guess the end result. With a bit of time, things changed drastically and he was able to make real inroads with the students and even to gain acceptance from them as a member of their school community.

Right or wrong, the church is often viewed by the world like this police officer was viewed by the students at his school. When all the misconceptions and stereotypes and memories of bad experiences take over, they simply don't want a bar of us.

It's worse when we hide in the safety of our church meetings and make pronouncements about how sinful the "world" is and how badly those outside the church need to get with the program. Not many want to hear that stuff, and most of all, they don't want to hear it from people who appear to be separated from them by an enormous, gaping cultural gulf.

And so they don't listen. They avoid church and its activities. Church and what it has to offer just don't seem relevant to them.

But, like the cop in the story, the barriers really start to come down when we step out of our church "uniforms" and start living alongside everyone else like real human beings. When we begin to get involved in their lives and their interests respect is earned, trust is gained and slowly relationships are built. The walls built on the stereotypes and bad experiences start to crumble.

This is the challenge for the church, particularly in Australia, but also I suspect, elsewhere in the world. To earn the right to influence culture the followers of Jesus must be prepared to step out and blend in - to become human among the humans. After all, isn't this just what Jesus did?

That's what's with the chameleon!


David said...

Good post Andrew.

David said...

Sorry, I meant to hit preview and hit post.

I wanted to say that I agreed with what you wrote, and I think that for many in the church it is so hard to see the 'enormous, gaping cultural gulf'.

I also think many Christians perhaps think it is the church's job to engage in the community rather than they themselves doing so on a personal level in their lives.

The Creature said...

I really think it's the "personal" side of things that scares people the most. It's difficult to really engage with others, and our western culture is so impersonal - generally we aren't raised in a way that makes this kind of engagement easy.

Shannon said...

Excellent post Andrew. I couldn't agree more. I see a great deal of talk in regards to how lost the world is and it's justified by saying we're in the world but not "of" the world. To me, that is just wrong and doesn't fit the model of what Jesus taught us. I'm not suggesting the scripture is in error on this but I think many who interpret this to say we aren't supposed to have anything to do with our world and thereby disconnect from it, is wrong. I'm actually working on a post for my blog with this type of thing in mine. I've titled it "Cultural Intimacy". I'll be posting it sometime this week. I would love your thoughts!

The Creature said...

Yep - spot on re the "in the world not of the world" stuff!

Will definitely check it out and share whatever I can! :)