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Q&A with Ross Clifford – Part Four

Ross CliffordThe Rev. Dr. Ross Clifford will be the keynote speaker at this year’s BGAV Annual Meeting. Ross is currently the Past-President of the Baptist Union of Australia. He serves as Principal of the Morling College in Macquarie Park, New South Wales, Australia.

A noted theologian and prolific writer, we are thrilled that he will join us this November in Fredericksburg.

We posed a series of questions to Ross as a way for us to get to know him a little bit in the coming months. Below are the next two:

1. Do you have advice for how churches can be hospitable places for those who are exploring faith from unconventional starting points?

I was spending time the other day with a church leader who shared that during Easter his church baptized 74 new converts. God is doing remarkable things in this church. It does not promote a “soft” gospel and is committed to radical discipleship.

He shared they are committed to being “hospitable” and that happens from the church foyer, right through every aspect of the church service. They ensure that all that they do and say is clear and simple, although not naïve, without Christian jargon or religious baggage. The “warmth” is evident to all as is God’s love and acceptance.

Another church I am connected to believed the architecture worked against them being a hospitable place. In their community the brick walls of the church spoke of a club mentality where one had to become a member to enter through the door into the hidden and sacred recesses.

So in the re-design of the building the front brick wall came down replaced by glass. Now all who walked by could see what was going on – this was not a club but an open welcoming space. Churches can be “incarnational” even within their walls.

To be hospitable means connection, acceptance, and relationship being at the forefront of all that we do, say and build. It also means catering for people’s different personality types in the way we learn, grow and experience. Does my church cater for a particular type, e.g. thinking, analytical, person who reveres authority?

Would a creative person who explores self and meaning through experiences, drama and stories, feel at home in my church? Being hospitable is to follow Paul’s injunction of being “all things to all people” even in the ways we “do” church. A lot of the conflict between denomination and churches is as much to do about personality types as it is about any doctrinal matters.

2. In the West, is the bigger problem that the church is having bad conversations or not enough conversation with those who are seeking God through new religious movements?

It’s both, but bad conversations as I have previously indicated are the real problem. Vicky emailed me after reading one of my online articles and book: a classic story. She was exploring spirituality, open to Jesus but was not sure.

She started to attend a church but could take no more when the church conversation regularly focused on “beating up” another religious group who had the audacity to want to worship in their area! She just didn’t get it. She was seeking guidance on her spiritual journey which at that point connected with Wicca, Jesus and complementary therapies, and all she felt she received was unhelpful conversation.

She left the church and cried,

“I’ll just keep praying to the Deity that I have always known, and will endeavor to be always guided by my spirit. I will continue to do my celebrations out in nature, and will continue to believe that the spirit of the Creator dwells in each of us, and in every living thing. I will still know Jesus died for my sins and will always be thankful for his great sacrifice. I will continue to strive to be more Christlike.

“I will leave the question as to whether I am a Christian or not up to God, for s/he alone can judge that one. Since I know how to worship in a Christian way, occasionally I will go to a church and worship with others, and to see if things have changed. But I don’t think I’ll call myself a Christian anymore. My ‘label’ doesn’t matter – it’s what is in my heart that counts.”

Click here to view all posts from Ross Clifford’s Q&A.