Fit. Feel. Fire.
There's not much traffic in our cul-de-sac on Sunday mornings. Among the neighbors our car is usually the only one headed to church. Don't translate that as a point of pride for Harriet and me. We're very aware that our righteousness is filthy rags and that the people in our immediate mission field are fine and decent people. Our interaction with most of them is the good neighborly sort of contact. Yes, they all have traditionally known two things about us even when the gab was slight. They knew we were Oliver's family, our deceased Shih Tzu, and that I was Pastor of the church up the street. Small talk around the mail box, the pool, or on special occasions was usually about our animals, or their spiritual leanings. They all had to let me know that they were Christians, attended church on Easter, and sanctified their marriage by saying vows in a church.
Most of them have approached me about matters of faith or asked us questions about the complexities of life---you know, marriage, divorce, smoking, drinking, partying, funeral planning, discipline of children, and more of the troubling uncertainties of our times. On rare occasions the talk would turn to church. Now, Harriet and I are not bashful about our faith. We've shared our faith with them as circumstances have opened that door, and we've invited them all to attend church with us, either in the regular schedule or during holiday observances. Once in a while several of the singles and couples wandered into our church on a Sunday morning. At some point after their church visit I would, in a BTW fashion, ask what they thought. Their answers seemed as if they had held a meeting to discuss the matter and give me a gentle, less critical answer. Three words dominated their replies---fit, feel, and fire, usually arranged like---
It wasn't a good fit.
It didn't feel right.
It didn't light my fire.
So, yes again, churches do transmit signals that connect with human physical, emotional, and spiritual antennae. There are fit, feel, fire elements that can communicate much about the doctrine, mission, and health of a local congregation. Attending a worship service, small group Bible study, or fellowship event can register vibes about that faith community that resonate with our particular needs at the time. Just the same, the fit, feel, and fire components our neighbors experienced could have been them waking up on the wrong side of the bed that day.
In most cases their receptor systems were not calibrated for spiritual discernment about church. For the most part they are not believers. They usually check the Christian box on census or survey checklists, as do most Americans. Few of them can articulate, even in a casual way, the rubrics of Christian faith. And we must remember what the Apostle Paul wrote, "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God for they are folly to him, and he is unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned"(1 Cor. 2:14, ESV). Their fit, feel, and fire inclinations are apparently more emotional or physical responses rather than spiritual.
Even in these geezer years we can learn something about the relational dynamics with the unbelievers around us. The fit, feel, and fire expectations of our neighbors are teaching us several realities that we are slow to learn---
1. We must live the realities of our faith all the time and in ever way. Well, duh! Our Lord's teaching about being light and salt, along with hundreds of other notable passages, give us instruction about the power of this kind of witness.
2. We must learn the discipline of spiritual conversation.
Well, hello! I'm no slacker with conversation and can usually engage people. But, those discussions, even with simple daily topics, should eventually transition to more serious talk. Once again, the Apostle Paul wrote, "Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person: (Colossians 4: 5-6, ESV). The art of spiritual conversation has been an informational trend in the Christian world for a couple of years. Do some Google work here to become familiar with ways to guide the good neighbor conversations to things more personally spiritual.
3. We must learn to invite our neighbors to church rather than send them.
Sending our neighbors to church has gotten a little old hat to them. By now they expect our reminders of seasonal events, activities, and worship experiences. But, to personally invite them to attend with us is more profound. A good example has been Harriet's relationship with a new neighbor. Harriet invited her to join the Thursday afternoon knitting group at our church. She attended, made new friends, and became connected. The next Sunday, while Harriet and I were attending the church I am serving as Interim Pastor, this lady attended Sunday School with the women she had met at knitting class. She now regularly attends and is asking deeper spiritual questions of them and us.
Fit, feel, and fire may be key expectations for those seeking expression of their spiritual inclinations. There's more, however. You and I are central in in our witness to them.
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