Followers of Jesus can cop plenty of flack for what they believe, Christian culture, and wrong doings of the church. How do Christians move from feeling timid or defensive about our faith, towards being confident?
A study on Romans 1:8-17 for young adults from the Society of Salt and Light, in Christchurch.
A quick introduction to the week’s bible passages and theme, which aims to engage people in the big picture of God’s story, and the challenge of living faith in light of that.
Back when Christchurch had a city, in front of the Cathedral during the day would be Ted the Street Preacher. Ted had a gravelly voice and wore a belt with a special drink bottle holder for his oversized drink bottle. From his position in the square he would boom from the depths of his bowels a message of God’s deep disappointment with the general public, debate with other unemployed folk who were looking for free lunchtime entertainment, and exchange evil stares with The Wizard. Nothing was more embarrassing than having to walk past Ted with my non-Christian friends during lunch, hearing their snide comments about Christians, and then trying to distance my faith from his. “Oh he’s not like most of us”.
It seems that some Christians in this world, like Ted, are just shameless when it comes to talking about what they believe. Admittedly, some people never seem to ever feel any shame about anything ever – not always a great thing for understanding social cues. Some of you might not get why we’re even talking about Christian shame at all – because from your point of view it’s all good. Yes, even the flag dancing old lady in church with the ribbons in her hair. So ask yourself this one question; when was the last time you brought a non-Christian along to church and why? Nervousness? Embarrassment? Shame, even?
Looking at our passage in Romans you get the impression that Paul was either one of these shameless Christians who didn’t care what people thought of him, or, that his confidence in the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was so powerful, so transformative, and such an important message to share with the world that he overcame his fear of rejection and shame for the sake of God’s call on his life.
As followers of Jesus each of us, like Paul, also have a call on our lives to share God’s good news. So how do we deal with our fear of social rejection from those who might think of us as brainwashed, deluded, pushy or lame? What things are we willing to stick out about, or even be rejected over? And how do Christians make sure we’re offending people over the right counter-cultural “gospel” stuff, and not just turning them off because we’re culturally out of touch? Flag dancing anyone?
For the Scholars
Discussion questions focusing on exploring the bible passage.
1. Out of everything, what makes you (or would make you) most ashamed of Christianity?
2. On the other hand, what would make you most comfortable to be associated with Christianity?
READ Romans 1:8-15
3. What seems to drive Paul – what is his passion, from these verses?
READ Romans 1:16-17
4. Why, from verse 16, is Paul not ashamed of the ‘good news’?
5. What do you think is significant about the idea that the gospel is ‘the power of God for salvation’? How might that help us when we are inclined to feel ashamed to share our message?
6. Whose righteousness is revealed in the gospel? Can you think of ways that the gospel does this?
7. Thinking back to what you said you were inclined to be ashamed of at the start, how much of that is actually tied to ‘the gospel’, and how much is tied to other things? Are you ashamed of the gospel or something else?
8. Think back to what you said made you most comfortable to be associated with Christianity. How do these things arise from ‘the gospel’?
9. On reflection, what do you think is the single biggest obstacle to you sharing this ‘good news’ with other people? In what ways, if any, would this be helped by seeing the gospel as God’s power for salvation, and as a revelation of God’s righteousness?
FOR THE DREAMERS
Discussion questions focusing on mulling over the theme.
1. Name a thing or a specific time when you’ve felt shame or embarrassment for being a follower of Jesus or part of Christian culture? What was it exactly about that situation that brought it on? (eg A street preacher yelling about Hell, Fire and Brimstone, or the Westboro Baptist “God hates Fags” Church, or Child Molestation by Priests). How common is timidness an issue for Christians?
2. Psychologists say the three ingredients that create shame are silence, secrecy and judgement. How do those three things play out to contribute to “Christian Shame” in our own lives? What might be “Christian antidotes” to counter those ingredients of shame?
3. Over the centuries Christians and the Church have been involved with terrible atrocities (the crusades, witch burning, sexual abuse, and the persecution of minorities…) and these are often things people will use against followers of Jesus as examples of a corrupt faith. Should a Christian take any responsibility for the past actions of our Church? What’s your response to people who criticize your faith based on historical wrongs?
4. It’s natural to want to fit in and be accepted by those around or above us – but often when people challenge or mock our faith we can become defensive, ungraceful and aggressive in our responses – or timid with our confidence knocked so our faith becomes private. How can followers of Jesus find confidence when it can feel as if the world is having a go at us?
5. In our passage from Romans, Paul says he’s not ashamed of the gospel, in fact he goes as far as saying he feels an obligation to share the gospel with Jews and gentiles (non-jews). What holds you back from having that sort of confidence in your faith? Do you feel “obliged” to share the good news with the world – or does that world make you nervous? What has your experience been of sharing your faith with non-Christians? (Watch Sticking Out on Campus with Dr Bob Hall to hear of his experience of becoming a Christian while working at Canterbury University and his advice to Christian students)
6. What do you think is the single biggest obstacle to you sharing this ‘good news’ with other people?
FOR THE REALISTS
Possibilities for on topic testimonials, sharing and story telling.
Reject-proof: Ask someone outside your group from your church to talk for 5 minutes about a time when they’ve felt rejected for being a Christian and how they dealt with that. Did they find any comfort in the Bible or other Christians? How did the experience impact them in the long run? Remember to give them at least a few days warning so they can prepare well.
FOR THE ACTIVISTS
Activities and adventures beyond the couch.
Confessional: For those of you at the Festival of Salt and Light you probably remember seeing this outdoor confession booth – it was a place to confess our sins anonymously before God.
Since one of the ways to deal with that sense of shame is to avoid silence and secrecy – construct a temporary confession booth one night at where ever your group meets. Take turns confessing to each other the things you feel most ashamed about from the Church’s past or present. How does it feel to confess things you weren’t responsible for? How does it feel to hear the confessions of the past?
Extreme option for the Brave – Locate the Confession Booth for one night on the side of a busy street, a mall, or outside your church and confess to
willing strangers as they walk past. How do people react? Do they care? Do they think you’re just weirdo’s? Are they moved?