I want to invite you to listen to some things that may sound bizarre to you if you doubt that God is active in the world. This story is an article in the magazine, Christianity Today. CT is a long-established, well-respected evangelical magazine; it is not so much an instrument of theologically-conservative churches as an instrument of churches of all stripes that seek to embody the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). I believe, as do the editors of CT, that thriving churches are basically evangelical – that is, they are churches that have a mission orientation; reaching out to people beyond their doors is a fundamental part of the self-identity of thriving churches.
A Story for the Post-Christian Age
In an article titled, “Journey to the Center,” California lay church member Joanna Quintrell recounts the origin of her vision of a ministry to “alternative spirituality seekers,” and the progression of her journey to embrace her calling. Among other intriguing things, she says:
“We’re learning about culture and language, things to avoid because they give the wrong idea or accidentally offend. If we use certain words, walls go up. If we learn their words, bridges go up.”
Since some of the offensive words are Jesus, church, and Christianity, their work isn’t easy or comfortable. Volunteers have learned that Christ carries positive connotations, for many are into “Christ consciousness.”
“They mean something different,” Quintrell says, “but Christ is a bridge word. So we usually pray in the name of Christ the healer.”
She also recounts meeting alternative spiritual director Ruah Bull, who practices chakra balancing and past-life regression. At first “repelled” by Bull’s beliefs, Quintrell realized that Bull was one of those church-wounded people she felt God calling her to reach, so she made an appointment to meet at a local coffee shop. She says something unexpected happened:
“As we walked up to each other, it was as if we had stepped under a waterfall of love. We grabbed each other and hugged. Then we sat for the next two or three hours, sharing our stories.”
Bull was raised Irish Catholic, had left the church in her teens, and had wanted nothing to do with evangelicals. Her journey had been through radical feminism, goddess worship, Buddhist meditation, and Native American spiritual practices, but throughout it all, she said, Jesus kept showing up. For example, “when Bull visualized a door, turned the handle, and stepped into the room where she was supposed to meet her higher self, Jesus was there.” She got mad and demanded of him, “What are you doing here?”
On another occasion, in a Native American spiritual exercise, she had a vision of warriors dancing around a fire, one of whom had a beard – unusual among Native Americans. When she looked closer, she realized it was Jesus. She recounts, “I didn’t tell anybody about it…. I was embarrassed. It was extremely uncool to be into Jesus.”
At the time, she didn’t know many Christians, and Quintrell was a surprise: “When I met Joanna, my stereotypes collapsed.”
For Quintrell, a similar revelation occurred: “I hadn’t realized that my understanding of God was so limited. I didn’t know he could show up in someone’s Eastern meditation practice.”
The two began meeting monthly, and Quintrell says,
“The Holy Spirit was training me how to share my story in authentic ways that didn’t have an agenda for the other person… It’s not us versus them. It really is a journey, continuously unfolding, for me and for others.”
Bull also changed, and in time became a member of Joanna’s church; today she considers herself a “contemplative Catholic,” and the two have formed a common enterprise, brainstorming ways to reach others who, like Bull, “are attracted to faith but allergic to Christianity.”
Lessons for Contemporary Christians
There are two important things about this article. The first is that it illustrates the importance of becoming open to unexpected instructions from God, now that the United States has moved past its Christian traditions and culture. The church of today has to be a missionary endeavor. We represent a minority opinion in a social setting that embraces multiple faith perspectives and diverse truths. In addition, a growing number of Americans – and Western Europeans – are “allergic” to churches even while hungry for the authentic, life-changing spirituality the gospels proclaim.
If the church does not become the people who embody changed lives and vital spirituality, our neighbors will look elsewhere for answers. And if we do not learn to connect with our fellow citizens where they hang out – which means, online and through digital media – then we will not have an opportunity to share our convictions with those who, like Ruah Bull, would find fulfillment in the good news about Jesus Christ.
Too many churches are dying because they are wedded to a form of Christian expression anchored in a by-gone culture; and because of that stubborn commitment they are increasingly out of touch with, and irrelevant to, contemporary society. Quintrell’s inspiring story admonishes us to be about God’s work, not our own perceptions of what it means to be “holy.”
The story of Peter in Acts 10, and the lesson the Jerusalem church learned from it (Acts 11:1-18) is instructive, here. Peter considered non-Jews to be outside of God’s grace, but God called Cornelius to visit with him, and when they met both experienced the descent of the Holy Spirit. In the same way, Quintrell thought New Age spiritualists were beyond God’s grace, but experienced a “waterfall of love” when she met Bull, whom God had called through visions as God once called Cornelius through visions.
The God of the Bible continues to work in the world in biblical ways. Consider using Peter’s story side-by-side with the full account of Quintrell’s experience, recorded in Christianity Today, as a way to start a conversation in your church about how God values human beings. Quintrell’s story is an updated version of Peter’s story. It shows that God does not change, but that we need to be continually moved beyond our limited perspectives of divine “righteousness.”
The second lesson is this: If it were not for digital media (in this case, the internet) I would not have found this story, and I would not be able to share it with you. That truth illustrates the fact that, in addition to gaining a new perception on God’s openness and commitment to all human beings, we need to embrace a variety of venues, including contemporary technology, if we are going to faithfully share God’s Word with all of God’s people.
To help you explore, promote, and faithfully use digital media in an evangelism program, explore the website Web Evangelism. WE offers tips, tools and techniques, along with examples of how congregations use digital media to reach people for Christ. WE can help you become more effective in your community and the world, help you make the most of the internet and new communication technologies, and provide you with inspiration and support as you encourage your congregation to move in new directions.
Be sure to review their free group study material, too, which will stimulate conversations about modern evangelism and the role of digital media in linking your church with spiritually hungry neighbors. And take note of the site’s Internet Evangelism Day, a program for the last Sunday in April that focuses on educating congregations about the power of digital media to connect with unchurched seekers.