Thursday, 12 December 2013

What is 'Engagement' in a Christian World?

Engagement is one of those 'in' words at the moment and like 'impact' it's not only overused but wrongly used too! The problem is that they, and so many other buzzwords and trite statements means that many of the Christian in missional settings especially that I encounter end up communicating using what one of the clergy I know calls 'testiculations'*! 

Recently, whilst I had reason to watch three video interviews relating to missional church and Fresh Expressions: They were peppered with the word 'engagement' and many other  buzzwords and yet they communicated nothing and this got me thinking about the words we use and what we think they mean and what they really mean.

The reality is that 'engagement' is more than just talking to people or getting them to agree to come, sign-up or wear a badge and in a church setting there is much that we need to think about. Here's a starter on this issue and what it means for us in the wonderful world of church:

To 'engage' someone is to draw them into something (a conversation, cause, campaign and the like) and win them over such that they become part. For me this is best found in the Psalm One path to taking up wrong company in that first the person stops, then sit and finally, comfortable with the company, behaviour and values, they are at ease and recline.

One of the things that 'engagement' demands is the Benefits element - and this isn't all about them. It's about the thing you have before them having some form of validity and meaning and this often manifests as desirable when it serves others and/or gives meaning to their own life and society. Too often we try to engage people over Church with the 'get out of hell free' card and the problem is that what we are really bringing into the awareness of others is the second element to be considered:

Belonging - the realisation that you not only agree, and have some affinity, with the group but also fit into it. Finding that you have a place and that place is pleasing is a large part of the 'being engaged with' thing. After all, belonging is (so I've read) 90% of the whole relationship thing and even when you're at odds with the group, feeling you belong can overcome and cover a multitude of conflicts and heal them too.

Being like them - is a tough part because some of the things that 'Church' values are different from that which the world likes and worse still, there is an expectation that you will become more like the bloke they follow as you get further into the group. This can be a real problem when you realise that you, and they, all have:

Baggage - that needs to be dealt with and this is usually stuff that makes life interesting (in the negative sense) at times. The problem is that we pack our bags with loads of stuff that we have found difficult to have in the open and so this is a place where rather than be drawn in, people are likely to be finding themselves repelled. A potential for weakening bonds and even being set free into the world and away from the Church setting if this is not picked up and dealt with sensitively.

Being listened to - I remember a person who was always wanting to be listened to and yet, when they were, they not only had nothing to say but were aggrieved that they were 'being put on the the spot' and invited to put their point of view. Eventually I realised that they merely wanted a voice rather than to say something and the problem was solved. But most of us want to feel that we have a valid voice and are taken seriously and respected. One of the best ways to bring people into the group is to make them aware that they have a voice from early on - after all the only stupid questions are those which are left unasked and the only stupid points of view are the ones that we are not willing to dialogue over. Two-way, fully engaged traffic from the very beginning is the route to engagement and relationship.

Engagement is not a buzzword to thrown in to conversations but is a multi-faceted reality that we, as Church, are called to make a reality. It stops, takes time, gets to know, enthuses, encourages, enlivens and enriches. How are you engaging with others?

ps. I hope you notice that I've managed to keep it in proper preaching style with all the points beginning with the letter 'B' - not sure what preaching class lecturer would make of it though ;-)

*What me dear old Dad used to call 'talking cobblers!'

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