It’s a pretty warm one here in Dunedin
(by Dunediny standards, at least – a good deal cooler than the Aussie experience!)
I’m listening to the music and splashing (and beer can opening) of the guys from the flat below my office:
they have wisely taken up residence in a paddling pool.
As I listen, I’m reminded of Psalm 1.
We’ve sung it a couple of times over the past few weeks at Student Soul.
Happy are those … [whose] delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
There is something about being REALLY HOT that brings this passage to life. As I fill my water bottle again, I pray that in all of life I will be refreshed and sustained by all the wisdom of God. And I pray that for you too!
We’d done an airport drop off and decided to keep heading west, to Middlemarch.
After lunch and a wander of the street/s, we stopped off at the salt lake.
We had visited once before.
As I led the way (a little briskly due to the promise of rain – both in the sky and forecast),
I remembered the sensation from our last visit:
of not knowing where I was going to end up.
The landscape appeared flat, yet there are also moments when you seem to be approaching a crest.
Surely, the lake will appear at some stage.
Also, looking ahead, it wasn’t always obvious where the path was.
But, if I kept looking into the shorter distance, there was always a clear way through the next part
– and that clarity was consistently present before me as I kept walking.
Life can be a bit like that, right?
We can have a sense of what our destination is,
and see a little part of the way forward,
but we don’t need to be able to see the whole track.
And that is OK. Normal.
I could have stood, debilitated, scanning the horizon, trying to see where the distant path was.
But there was no need.
All I needed to do was to follow the trail before me.
The rest was revealed as it needed to be.
The lake eventually appeared.
Was appreciated. Briskly (that potential rain, again).
The sounds of a family playing in and near the water.
And a continuation of the trail that led me back to the car.
It worked for a walk.
Why? Because there was somewhere I was going (or at least, I had a sense that there was a recommended destination ahead: in truth, the first time I visited, I had little idea of what that destination would look like).
There was a path that led me there.
I followed it.
It seems it might work for life too.
We have an idea of where we are going.
We take steps to get there, trusting that the path before us will continue to be revealed.
Why are previously unchurched people becoming Christians today?
That was the BIG question that I explored in my PhD.
What did I discover?
Here’s a bit of a summary… Within each of these brief headings and summaries lies much additional material!
Why ask the question?
Christian church attendance and religious affiliation in Western countries is declining. Decreasing proportions of people are raised in the Church. However, Christians are called to bear witness to the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ. The purpose of this research was to investigate why some previously ‘unchurched’ people become Christians: thus, encouraging and enabling more effective engagement by Christians in conversion. Combining social scientific practice with theological reflection revealed a substantive theory of religious conversion contextually located in late modernity/postmodernity.
What did I do?
The research began with the lived experiences of previously unchurched Australians, who recently converted to Christianity. It used critical realist grounded theory to answer research questions about the conversion process; the roles of other Christians and God in conversion; and the deep processes occurring within these converts. Semi structured interviews generated rich data, which was analysed using iterative and in-depth grounded theory methods.
What did I discover…
About the conversion process?
The research found that following initial exposure to Christianity, participants experienced a catalyst that encouraged them to further explore Christianity. They began to engage in various spiritual practices, usually following a specific invitation. Having made a series of decisions to continue to explore and engage, they reached a point where they called themselves ‘Christian’.
About how they perceived other Christians?
Converts generally had a positive perception of other Christians, and understood them to have been helped by their faith; to live differently because of their faith; to share openly with others; to be deeply hospitable; and to allow room for complexity, doubts and questions in their faith.
About how they understood God’s role in conversion?
God was understood to be loving, powerful, patient, accepting and forgiving. In addition, God was seen to work through others; curate unique conversion experiences; be present; speak; help; grow the participants; and to have acted in the past in creating, sacrificing, redeeming, and Jesus dying.
What was going on deep inside?
Converts experienced ‘affects’ as they journeyed towards Christian faith. a yearning or wanting more; a desire to live better or become who they are; a sense that faith relates to everyday life; a sense of welcome, warmth, belonging and homecoming; a sense of knowing; and, because of their fledgling faith, they saw things differently.
So, what is it all about?
For those I interviewed, conversion can be understood as resulting from their desiring, observing and experiencing relational authenticity. Religious conversion is fuelled by a desire for authenticity. God enables authenticity to develop and flourish. Religious conversion is resourced by Christians who embrace and exhibit authenticity in their personal, social and spiritual lives. This genuine authenticity is relational in nature: focusing not (just) on the self but also on relationship with God and significant connection with, and responsibility toward, others. This understanding rightly challenges the notion of authenticity as a narcissistic actualisation that prioritises the self over external relationships and responsibilities. When relational authenticity is sought, and realised, healthy transformation results. This transformation sees new converts ‘becoming’ the people they were created to be: unique persons who see their worth and their responsibilities in the light of their relationships with God and with others.
Want to hear more?
There is a very brief article in here on the role of other Christians in faith formation.
Thanks for stopping by my blog! This is a spot where I share some thoughts about life, spirituality, mission and ministry.
I live in Dunedin with (hubby) Steve, and our young adult daughters. And a cat. (Don’t forget the cat.) l love our views of the harbour, as well as the birds that serenade us daily.
Work-wise, I like variety, which is just as well! I’m Somerville Lecturer in Pastoral Theology at Otago University; co-leader of Student Soul (a student congregation); and I also do a little research and consultancy for various not-for-profits – churches and denominational agencies mostly.
I grew up in Christchurch, and have also lived in Auckland and Adelaide.
Overall, I’m passionate about helping people connect with God; and about seeing them become the people that God has made them to be.