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Are we creating safe places for real questions from real people, for doubts and journey and unresolved mess?

Today I had my final regular meeting with Toby. He's been a member of my church Community Group and served as the president of the Evangelical Christian Union at Exeter University. I hope it'll be a lasting friendship, though he leaves the city this weekend.

Over the past couple of years we've met, eaten, shared life and hours and hours of conversation about his questions and doubts, no question unaskable - though I don't claim to have every answer. We've talked about leadership and relationships, and together we've devoured Galatians and half of Genesis.... It's been fun.

I find some young leaders with tender hearts are prone to disqualify themselves. They need space to work through their questions and the implications of knowing Jesus. I hope I've helped Toby with that.

This morning we met at The Quay in Exeter. Ideal in a "heat-wave".

We chatted about his future aspirations before being interrupted by an uncharacteristically friendly Brit who asked if he could hang out with us for a bit.

Our acquaintance had been sat sipping cider with his feet in the canal for a while, talking about stealing a boat, and was emerging from being betrayed the night before...

It was great to chat with this supermarket warehouse worker, and we quickly got to talking "religion" - "how do you guys know each other?" he asked: church Toby replied.

We covered a whole range of subjects around Christianity, satire (do we mind The Life of Brian? Surely, if true then Christianity can handle satire, welcome the engagement...), we talked about the ugly idea of karma and suffering, God, the decisive issue of Jesus' life, death and resurrection.... but I was most struck by two things.

Firstly, many believers he knows - and he'd grown up going to the youth group of a large evangelical church in the city - seem to just dismiss "evidence" and appeal to blind faith... failing to engage with his and other people's questions. He seemed surprised that we were prepared to think hard about hard questions and wrestle with the issues. It reminded me that we need to help people to do this more. Asking questions is good. The church should be a place people feel very safe to do this.
How can we make the church a safe place to ask questions and raise doubts? Why are some of us scared of questions? Have we done the thinking that means our faith can stand when suffering comes? Dare we? Why are we scared of sharing our doubts and concerns? What do we think would happen if we were vulnerable? How would church meetings look different if we did that? 

Secondly, he said he'd expect a church not to want people aren't believers to come and be part of their community. Wouldn't that be abusing their kindness? Please God let than never be true of us...  the church should be exactly the place where people should feel most welcome, where grace can be exploited... a place to belong long before any beginning to believe.
How can we invite people to come on the journey with us? We have questions and there are things we don't know... why expect anyone else to have got themselves together... How can we hold confidently to what we do know in context that is safe for discovery and journey... How would church life have to change to ensure that the very people Jesus sought out would feel as welcomed as they did by Jesus?

Eventually we left him to enjoy the sunshine and headed off to get a coffee somewhere. I hope we raised questions for him. I hope we provoked his interest.

I regret that we didn't more clearly lay a pathway for him to come along to one of our church meetings. We talked a lot about church, but did we give him a obvious next step? I could and should have done better. Each experience in life is an opportunity to learn and I intend to do just that.

I'm keen to open my eyes more to the people around me in my city: people with real lives; real pain; real questions; in need to real hope and a safe place to work things through.


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