Great comments! Thank you @SeanO, @Tim_Ramey, @omnarchy, and @anthony.costello for your thoughtful, caring responses!
One of the tendencies that I have noticed in myself is a consumeristic approach to life. The question, “What’s in it for me?” is a habitual instinct. I notice how this is formed by how much effort is put into explaining how various resources, programs, etc. would be valuable and relevant to my life. I think good marketing is an expression of servanthood - working hard to clearly and accurately state the benefit of a program or resource so that people can benefit from the experience. I think there can be a very honest expression of discipleship in the marketing of products and services.
At the same time, there is a tension between the consumer and the disciple. Since RZIM Connect is an environment where we are seeking to grow to maturity in Christ, we want to keep the challenge on the side of “how can you serve others?”
There are many ways to do that:
- Asking a question that opens up a conversation many can benefit from,
- Starting a conversation with a thought-provoking reflection or devotional,
- Providing a great answer to someone else,
- Introducing yourself to the community so we can know the questioner behind the question,
- Warmly welcoming others into the community
Whatever the means, the heart is to consider the needs of others. For instance, even if I have a question that needs resolution, I can serve others by writing a clear title to the post, expressing the question concisely but clearly, and thanking those who contribute to the answering of my question. There is a mature way to combine genuine self-interest with other-centered concern.
My belief is that as we come into Connect to serve others, we will find ourselves growing as disciples. Perhaps the question is difficult for me! Rather than a hasty answer, I might take the time to research the answer and provide a thoughtful, personal, caring answer. This might include praying for the person who asked the question, thinking of questions to continue the conversation, and checking my post for respect and clarity. That’s a lot of work!
Similarly, each time when I go to the gym, my trainer has a new workout planned that helps me get stronger. Because I am pushed beyond my current limits in the gym, I am stronger to play with my kids or do chores around the home. My goal is to push us to make the best contributions we can in Connect, even involving a level of sacrifice, so that we can make better contributions to conversations outside of Connect. By researching the answer to a new question, you’re prepare for a new range of conversations in the rest of your life. The harder work you’re pushed to do here is designed to strengthen your capacity for spiritual conversations everywhere else. This is a safe, encouraging place to practice and get honest, loving feedback about how your tone and approach sounds to others.
Also, I am inviting each of us to challenge one another to elevate the quality of how we discuss topics here. We can train and support one another in a journey to better contributions. We are a community on mission together. This isn’t a top-down approach but a side-by-side journey. I have a great deal to learn too!
To be clear: We’re doing a great job!! I am incredibly grateful and delighted by the community! It is outstanding. But the way we grow is not by saying, “Hey, good job lifting 20lbs, let’s stay there.” A good trainer says, “Can you handle 25lbs? Let’s give that a try.”
Last week I had the opportunity to ask Ravi what advice he gives to younger apologists. In addition to emphasizing their character and faith, he said there are three key points for how to answer a question. They are the following:
- State the rational case
- Illustrate the point
- Practically apply it
If you listen closely to his talks, you will probably notice that they follow that same structure. For shorter talks, he goes through that structure a couple of times; for longer talks, he simply adds additional points that are beautifully illustrated and applied.
By prayerfully and respectfully addressing each questioner in this way, we will be speaking to the whole person. It isn’t just the rational answer, but it is thinking of how to illustrate the point through stories, art, personal examples, as well as the practical difference it makes to approach the question from a Biblical point of view. That is one of the most powerful ways we can go from an intellectualist approach to answering a question to a personal way of opening a new friend to see reality more clearly - and to want to live according to the good and beautiful plan God has for us.
I welcome your further thoughts on this approach to discussions here!