I was involved with a Christian fellowship group for the better part of my undergraduate career – leading Bible studies, going to meetings, and attending leadership training sessions. I learned the organization’s ministry strategies, the Bible study methodology, and the accompanying social schedule.
I also grew in my faith. Certain themes began to surface through my experience there that struck me. Perhaps the strongest were the calls to help people who are in need and to pursue justice in a world where so many are oppressed. Quickly, I started to ask how I could apply these lessons in my life as a college student.
I was among a group of students who suggested ideas for getting our campus fellowship involved in the community. We lived in one of the poorest counties in the state of Illinois, which exhibited significant homelessness, unemployment, and healthcare accessibility issues. But each time the suggestion to go serve in our community came up, we were told that the organization’s focus was on other forms of ministry. In other words, our campus fellowship didn’t have the capacity for sustained service activities.
I feel that a similar lack of capacity prevents Christian organizations from forming interfaith relationships within their communities and on their campuses. While most churches I’ve attended have a weekly calendar packed with activities, none of those activities attempt to interact with other faith communities. Yet if our Christian organizations and their leaders don’t lead the way in building interfaith cooperation, who are we going to follow?
I once heard advice about evangelism suggesting that Christians should do fewer religious activities in order to free-up time to participate in the non-religious activities we enjoy. Doing so gives us the chance to interact and build relationships with people of different backgrounds, which is part of our obligation to share Jesus Christ with the world.
But I wonder what would happen if we tried to be more creative in planning our agendas. What about planning that campus fellowship Frisbee tournament with student organizations of other faith traditions? Or inviting members of the nearby mosque or temple to participate in your church’s weekly soup kitchen? Or going on a mission trip with the secular humanist organization in your area? (It’s been done!)
Like all Christians, I value time in fellowship, prayer, and worship with other Christians and believe that it is essential to my faith. But I don’t believe that Christians are called to make themselves busy with the sort of Christians-only activities that keep us from building meaningful relationships with our neighbors – especially our neighbors from other faith traditions. And my guess is that the Christians-only busyness won’t stop happening until we start making changes to the schedule.