The IF:Gathering . . . why I’m sold and how you can participate

Last month, I mentioned that I had attended a small retreat for other Christian leaders in Austin, TX.  I want to give a little backstory to that trip.

When I got the invitation to this event, I have to admit I was a little surprised. See, I’m not really a “Christian blogger”.  I’m a Christian, and I blog, but I’ve never wanted this site to be a Christian blog. Not that I think there is anything wrong with faith-based blogs . . . it’s just not my jam. I think there are plenty of places out there where Christians can connect and be encouraged, and I always wanted this space to be a welcoming, diverse place where a wide variety of women (and men!) could connect and relate. It’s led to some interesting discussions in the comment section from time to time, but I love it that way. And on occasion, I will get a letter from a reader who says something like, “you know, I’ve had a hard time with Christians for a long time but you are showing me another side.” I feel good about that.  I’m not embarrassed about my faith – I don’t hide it, and I’ve done posts (and even series) where I talk about it. But I’ve never wanted this to be a blog that is exclusively for other people who share my faith.

Because my blog is relatively secular, I’ve never really been included in the Christian blogging circle. I’ve rarely been invited to speak at Christian blogging events and I’ve felt a bit outside of that whole community. And truly – it has been fine with  me. I’ve found my tribe online and it’s a diverse group and I love it. I’ve always felt a bit outside of the mainstream Christian circle. It really bothered me in my teens and twenties, especially as I struggled to fit in at high school youth group and later at bible college. But in my 30’s I stopped worrying about fitting in and began to feel comfortable with who I am. Through the beauty of social media, I also found a lot of other like-minded people who love Jesus but maybe not everything about the American Evangelical Complex, which has helped me in feeling less isolated.

So, back to that invite to this IF Gathering for Christian leaders . . . when I got the email, I was equal parts flattered and anxious. It really did feel nice to be included, and to be recognized as a Real True Christian, since I’m frequently dismissed as being too liberal. At the same time, I worried that I wasn’t going to fit in . . . that I was going to be back at Cincinnati Bible College getting the side-eye for my rebellious spirit and my Doc Martens. (I don’t actually wear Doc Martens anymore, but you know what I mean.)

I accepted, though, and felt pretty good about it, until a few months out more details were revealed. The leadership of the IF movement already had plans for a women’s conference. Record-scratch. I DON’T LIKE WOMEN’S CONFERENCES. Not that there is anything wrong with them . . . it’s just not my thing. I couldn’t believe that I was traveling to a leadership gathering that was gearing up for a women’s conference. I was already feeling a bit out of place, and now I was really second-guessing my involvement. Because in my book, a women’s conference is not the way to address the disillusionment our generation is feeling about God and the church. A women’s conference is going to attract people who are already IN. Also, it’s going to attract the privileged . . . the people with enough time and money to pay for a ticket and travel and miss work, etc. And don’t we already have enough women’s conferences? (My friend Sarah actually wrapped up All Of My Feels in her post about this.)

I shared these thoughts with the leadership team before I went. They asked me to come anyway. I waffled . . . because I don’t like being the squeaky wheel. I knew they were intentional in inviting a diverse gorup of women but I was leery about being the token liberal/post-evangelical/whatever-label-people-affix-to-my-type. I knew some of the gals coming weren’t fans of me. (One gal actually told me this in person. Nicely.) Did I really want to show up to a space where I already felt like an outsider, and assert my opinion that they were “doing it wrong”?  That I didn’t think a pricey conference could spark a movement?  I didn’t want to be the wet blanket on this thing they were excited about. I just felt like staying home. Let them do their nice lady retreat. Let me stay over in my comfortable corner.

if gathering

But I went anyway. I had a lovely time. Truly. It was refreshing and moving and I made great connections and felt like I was wanted and included. People were absolutely lovely to me. I felt dumb about my fears of being an outsider. But, at the same time, I still felt uncomfortable with the direction they were taking. I knew a few others did too. We shared our concerns. It was awkward.

And, here’s the kicker: they listened. They regrouped and changed course. They removed the ticket price completely – even knowing that with their speaker roster they could charge as much as they wanted. They asked for donations, so people of any income could come. And then they planned a local component so that people who couldn’t travel could participate, and so that women could get plugged into their local community.

If : Gathering - The Bigger Vision from If Gathering on Vimeo.

IF : Austin sold out Monday in less than an hour. But IF : Local is the real heartbeat of the movement. Jen Hatmaker outlines what that looks like:

IF : Local will involve tens of thousands in their actual lives, where women can gather organically and cheer each other on to bravery long after the last session is over. This is the stuff.  . . . Kick your family out and gather your friends in your house for two days, rent a cute house together, meet in your church basement, plan a progressive dinner centered on each session, tuck away in your parents’ lake house, organize several small gatherings then come together for communion at the end. Empty nester? Open your clean quiet home to a group of women for IF : Local. What a gift. This is where it gets real and tangible.

If you are interested, check out the IF : Local site and sign up! I’m excited to see how this comes together, and proud to be a part of a group of women who had a vision but were also willing to hold it loosely and invite others to speak into it.

photos by http://everestroadphotography.com/


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