Tuesday, February 01, 2011


i've never been a big fan of pre-packaged curricula. they're convenient, to be sure, but often, they just seem slick, canned, and lifeless. even after all of these years in christian ministry, i still prefer the bible and people responding in prayer and service as they're led by the Holy Spirit. go figure.

but i have to admit that i've been favorably impressed by alpha. the description on the alpha website says, "alpha is an opportunity to explore the meaning of life in a relaxed, friendly setting.... each session, people enjoy great food, laughter and learning in a fun and friendly atmosphere where no question about life or God is seen as too simple or too hostile." i like the way that the 'program' is in large part a way to facilitate friendship and honest conversation about spiritual things. every week, we meet in a home and we enjoy dinner together, provided by generous volunteers. we find out how everyone is doing, catch up on the week, and generally enjoy one another. afterward, we head to the living room to hear a message on dvd on some topic related to christian faith, like:
  • is christianity boring, irrelevant, and untrue?
  • who is Jesus?
  • why did Jesus die?
i have to admit that i like the dvd component better than i expected. my initial reaction was: why listen to something recorded when one of us could easily convey that sort of message live? but having done it once, i'm starting to see the benefit of having the message delivered by someone that none of us knows and who isn't in the room. if i give that message, it might be hard to have an honest conversation afterward; people might not want to offend me or could feel too intimidated to publicly disagree. but the recorded message makes conversation easier; after we shut off the television, everyone is free to respond honestly and to interact with one another.

there is no 'selling' in alpha. people are free to come, listen, and express their opinion (or not), without others shouting them down. it's not that everyone agrees with everyone else or that all of the opinions are somehow equally true; but we show respect and acknowledge that people are at different places in their journey. ideally, this creates a safe environment where people can share their real questions and thoughts about God -- and on occasion, whatever impediments they might have to faith.

Jesus says, "none can come to me unless the father draws them" (john 6:44). that being the case, why not create welcoming environments where people can be honest about where they're really at and explore their questions openly?

the whole thing feels similar to what we did with international students in montreal, though we did that over scripture. maybe our alpha group will get to that point eventually; i hope so. but regardless, i like the idea of a curriculum that recognizes that we are to love in word and deed those who don't yet know Jesus, raise questions, and trust that God will break through. if he doesn't, no amount of programming can compensate.

unless the LORD builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.

unless the LORD watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
(psalm 127:1)

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