You can certainly get community outside of church, says bestselling author and blogger Rachel Held Evans, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth being part of a church community.
“Church forces us into relationship with those who are different than us,” Rachel told Sojourners. As a follower of Christ, she said, I have to be ready and willing to be in community with those who are different than me.
I recently caught up with Evans at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va. It was her ninth public appearance in the eight weeks as she bounced from Texas and the Midwest to the East Coast and back to Texas, with a foray to Michigan.
Rachel has made her career out of vocalizing what others are feeling, but can’t articulate quite as clearly.
“We make Christianity so much more complicated than it needs to be,” she said. The point of Christianity is that our insufficiency leads us to God’s grace. Scripture pulls us into communion and community with one another to wrestle with our faith and to grow together. Christianity is not about keeping people out, but about getting out of the way, releasing our grip on fear and letting grace be as “out of hand” as it has been since Jesus hung on the cross.
“Getting out of the way,” was a phrase she used often as she talked about the beauty, simplicity and inclusivity of the gospel. “God has a really bad habit of using people we don’t approve of,” she said, “what makes the gospel offensive is not who it keeps out, but who it lets in.” If given her way, Evans said would make a “Church of Rachel” that included only people she agreed with and who viewed God the same way she did. The beauty of the church though, is that it brings together people who believe things differently than we do and who challenge us to understand God’s word in a different way. Fortunately, “it isn’t about me,” she said. What is remarkable is that the gospel allows us to encounter God in all of these ordinary ways that God uses to reach out to us.
In her most recent book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Rachel attempted to tease out a definition for biblical womanhood by following the Bible’s prescriptions for women as literally as possible (she decided there isn’t one specific definition). An earlier book, titled Evolving in Monkey Town, documented the evolution, change and growth she experienced as she began to develop doubts about the no-questions-encouraged evangelistic faith of her childhood.
Rachel’s widest readership is probably garnered through her blog, though, in which she addresses issues such as women in leadership, homosexuality, Millennials’ absence from the church, doubt, and social justice, among a myriad of other “hot button” topics that she writes about with humor-filled candor and honesty.
“I can say things on the blog that pastors can’t say from the pulpit,” she explained, adding that she tries to position the blog as a community where people can safely engage in conversation about things that are important to them — a platform that fosters a different kind of community.
Kara Lofton is editorial/online assistant at Sojourners.