My last-but-one previous posting (Pray ye therefore the Lord of the Harvest) quickly morphed into the question: if find yourself in the position of ‘harvesting’ someone considering a Christian commitment, what are the key messages you would want to get across? These are my suggestions. Comments from serving clergy particularly welcome.
- That serious Christian discipleship is a slow business and should be seen in a long-term perspective. There may well by an emotional kick at the beginning, like with a new boy/girl-friend, but, as with such a relationship, the initial flare-up will die down, and it’s the long-term that counts. Be prepared to be challenged: fundamentally Christianity is about living as close as possible to our God-given capacities as sons of God, but that process will likely require us to lose some illusions about ourselves and to shed some protective identities.
- If possible, get a good guide, preferably someone a generation at least older, with 20 or more year’s Christian experience, and someone you can be absolutely frank with, about your emotional life in particular. Preferably therefore of your own gender.
- You will want to tie into a Christian community of one kind or another. Don’t rush into the first church that will have you. Shop around. Keep your eyes open. Do they allow you to question and discuss or expect you to do exactly what the priest/pastor tells you? How tight are the sexual morality rules? Are their services participatory or are they stand/sit and listen/watch? Trust your instincts – if there’s something you don’t like, move on. Whatever some pretend, all mainline denominations will get you to God, and none need to be permanent (unless you become a priest or monk/nun).
- It is wise to have your spiritual advisor separate from the community you end up in, and make it clear to the priest/pastor of that community that he or she is not your spiritual guide. This in particular in churches which insist on sacramental confession.
- Get to know the essentials of the Christian faith quickly. In particular read the gospels and epistles. Choose one Bible translation early and stick with it, one which is neither over-simplified or too out-of-date, as you will want to start to commit Scripture to heart.
- You will need to learn to pray. Keep it short and simple, mixing set prayers with speaking to God directly. Once a day is enough for most people, plus a short ‘good morning God’/’goodnight God’ at the start and end of the day. Learn not to be afraid of God and be absolutely straight with him. If there is something bugging you, upsetting you, something you don’t understand or disagree with violently, out with it, in your own language, however rough at the edges.
- You are going to have to learn a certain level of personal discipline and self-control. Yes, Christianity does not mix with binge-drinking and bed-hopping. But doesn’t doing anything serious in life demand this?
- Be discreet about your new faith, especially in the initial first flush. Don’t hide it, but don’t go round trumpeting it with large crosses and Jesus sandals. Christian witness is the stronger for having weathered a few storms first.
- It is impossible to lead a fruitful Christian life without normal human maturity, in particular without being aware of and comfortable with your emotional-sexual drives. If not, it’s like trying to run Word on a Windows programme that is faulty. Any spiritual adviser worth his salt will try to sense the family background you come from, and if it is faulty (especially mono-parental or problem families) to push you to face this and take action to ensure this does not remain a permanent impediment.