And this is the testimony that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
1 John 5:11-12 ESV
When Barb and I were on vacation and we shared a table with some new found friends on one particular evening. As we talked about our lives and had a chance to learn more about each of our journeys. The question of what we do for a living was raised. It is fun to see the reaction on people’s faces when I tell them I am a pastor in a local church in Golden Valley MN. Inevitably people ask me the question: what kind of church do you pastor?
This is always an interesting question. I used to default to saying it’s a Baptist church but that did not really clear anything up for most people. Most have very little understanding of different denominational groups or the difference between Christian groups and non-Christian churches. So giving people a “denominational answer” makes little difference unless it reinforces a misperceived stereotype of what they think we are. In our discipleship process here at Oak Grove we use the Navigators study, “Growing in Christ”. This verse is the first one to memorize and speaks to the assurance of salvation. I mention this because I have encouraged others in the disciplemaking process to learn to respond to this particular question by using this memory verses from this study.
Here is the problem. If I tell people we have informal networks with bible believing churches and a formal relationship with the Conservative Baptist organization, I often get puzzled looks. Most people have no idea what is a Conservative Baptist. In fact I often will get asked if we are like some other group, like Southern Baptist or Church of Christ or Catholic Church or whatever group they are most familiar with. Instead of getting bogged down in explaining denominational differences, I choose a different route.
When we were at my son’s wedding reception I was asked this question by some friends of Gabriela’s family. These two folks come from a Catholic background. I started by saying that I can answer this question two ways but here is my best answer. Our testimony as to what kind of church we are is anchored to 1 John 5:11-12. I usually quote the verses for them and then start by telling them our testimony is that we believe there are only two kinds of people in the world. As the verse states there are people who have eternal life from God and those who do not. Only those who have the Son of God have life. And those who do not have the Son of God do not have life. We exist to help people know how they can have eternal life from God. Then I usually just let those thoughts sit for a minute and I watch people process what I have just said. Sometimes it leads to more conversation and sometimes it does not. So why do I do this?
1. It is natural and appropriate. Using these verses gives me an opportunity to introduce the gospel to people by simply answering their question about what kind of church I pastor.
2. The discussion of identifying ourselves by a denominational title is often confusing and not productive. People often think they know people by labels that define their “religion” but these are usually a caricature of reality and not accurate. An individual’s faith is rarely exactly the same as the denomination so this is often too generalized.
3. This kind of answer gets things on a spiritual focus right away without it being a non-sequitur (something introduced completely off topic and out of context). At least for this introvert it is a great way to simply “raise a spiritual truth” by explaining what I believe; I’m not pushing them to believe anything either. I am only answering their question.
4. It is concise and clear. While this does not explain everything, this response takes less than a minute to explain and leaves it up to the person who asked the question with the power to continue the discussion or leave it alone. For me this keeps people from feeling trapped or manipulated into a corner.
5. I can ask other question if they do not ask for more clarity. I can ask if they attend a church and if they do, what kind of church is it. Even if they say Catholic or something pretty familiar I can ask why they attend and see if they can clarify for me what difference it makes for them.
Try it sometime, you might be surprised how well it works.