Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Call to Discipline

"We are usually surrounded by so much inner and outer noise that it is hard to truly hear our God when he is speaking to us. ... Thus our lives become absurd.  In the word absurd we find the Latin word surdus which means deaf. A spiritual life requires discipline because we need to learn to listen to God, who constantly speaks but we seldom hear. ... The word obedient comes from the Latin word audier, which means listening."
 - Henry Nouwen

Circular Organization

People like to set up triangular power structures.  The person at the top has the ultimate authority, and extends limited authority to a few subordinates, who delegate limited authority to a few subordinates, who delegate limited authority to a few subordinates.

We do this in the church, too, especially in small groups.  Your small group has a leader, but he reports to someone else, who reports to someone who reports to the pastor...or something like that.

I don't see Jesus doing this.  Instead, Jesus organized his followers circularly.  He had his best friend, John.  John was a part of the inner three (Peter, James, and John).  They were part of the Twelve.  The Twelve were part of the Seventy (Seventy-two?).  The Seventy (two?) were a part of the believers.  The believers were part of the crowds.

What's the lesson here?  I dunno.  Maybe it's quit trying to control things.  Quit making power grabs.  Maybe it's to be Jesus-centric.  All of the above?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Saturday, January 8, 2011


We seem to have this idea in the church that God wants everyone to be x, y, and z.  Therefore, if you want to fit in at church, you need to be x, y, and z--or at the very least pretend to be.  Hey, maybe if you pretend to be all of those things you might actually be all of those things eventually.

This is the very definition of being inauthentic.  It isn't biblical, either.

Jesus made it very clear that who we are on the outside is a product of who we are on the inside.  This is why He taught us that if we lust in our heart we have committed adultery.  The actual act of adultery is nothing more than the outflowing of the sin in our heart!  Jesus taught of a transformation that begins on the inside.  The outside is the last place you'll see change.

The church expects the exact opposite.  Before you even enter the building, you need to put down your booze and smokes, stop using bad language, and put on a nice shirt.  Once you're inside, you should be affable and gregarious.

God doesn't want you to act as if you care.  He isn't into theatrics.  God wants you to actually care.  Don't waste your effort trying to do what you think you would do if you actually cared--that's completely inauthentic.  Instead, put your effort into trying to actually make yourself care.  If you actually care, even a little bit, genuine response will follow sooner or later.

Paul taught us that every person in the body of Christ (the church) is different and plays a different role.  We can't all be eyeballs.  Somebody has to be an ear.  Somebody has to be hands.  Somebody has to be a sphincter.  God didn't make us all to be bubbly talkative people.  To tell someone that the way they were created is wrong, and they need to reform themselves in the image of another person is a sin, plain and simple.

Be authentic.  That doesn't mean you need to be the same authentic as anyone else, though!  They should be their own authentic self, and you should be your own authentic self.  Pretending to be anything else--regardless of your intentions--is the furthest thing from authenticity.

How can we help others to be more authentic?  Should we pepper them with personal inquiries?  I think not.  The more uncomfortable we make them, the harder it will be for them to let their walls down.  Be authentic.  Be open, and give them the space to be their own authentic self in their own time as they feel comfortable to do so.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Seven Things I Hate: A Defense

A while back, I published a list of Seven Things I Hate About Church, which I had actually written as part of a discussion of why men hate church.  It's a good post, and you should read it--especially if you want to understand this one.

Earlier this week, that particular blog entry generated a comment from my friend Kendra that merits response.  Kendra wrote:
I can agree with many of these points and I get your writing style of being semi-sincere, semi-humorous. Here comes the but clause though...But...

On #1 Why do you think it's insincere?
On #2 I think it is beautiful that people are seeking to know one another. The church is in far greater danger of people just showing up for an hour and going on their merry way, without being intentional. We are supposed to sharpen one another as iron, but we can't do it at all if we don't seek to know/be known.
On #7 There will always be bad Christians happening to good people, but I think the potential reward of authentic community far outweighs the risk of being hurt. Plus, it's not really about us. It's about being the body. Maybe it comes down to just trusting...which brings to mind that I'd like to re-read Ruthless Trust--Brennan Manning.

Why do you think it's insincere?  (I had said, "People pretend to care...")

Admittedly, sometimes someone feigns interest in me in a way that I perceive to be completely theatrical, but could theoretically be entirely genuine.  More often than not, however, you run into people who ask about your life during the "meet and greet" portion of the service who never bother to talk to you before or after the service.

To be fair, and in the interest of full disclosure, I hate meet and greet.  It's nothing but an attempt to create give-a-crap where none can otherwise be found.  If we really cared about one another, if we were really happy to see one another, if we were really friendly people, all of that would shine through before and after the service and wouldn't have to interrupt worship.  The fact that there's a designated time in the middle of the worship service serves as evidence that it's nothing but show that only the churchy people can really be happy about.

Of course, there's other signs, too.  It seems to me that the interest shown is directly proportional to the level at which the things I have to say are likely to lead the other person to gossip about me.  Of course, we define "to gossip about me" as "to enlist the saints to join together in prayer on my behalf."

In essence, I think it's insincere because it almost certainly is.

We are supposed to sharpen one another as iron, but we can't do it at all if we don't seek to know/be known.

Not to get wrapped up in details, but this is a trust issue.  Trust cannot be taken.  It can be earned, and it can be given.  Attempts to take trust when it is not offered is not socially acceptable.

Consider this true story.  I have a customer who is into a multi-level marketing thing.  I'm not into MLM at all, but this guy has been successful with it, and he sincerely believes in both the product and the business.  Whether he is right or not, he feels like he is helping people by talking to them and seeing if his MLM business might be right for them.  This past summer, a new co-worker met this customer for the very first time.  My customer asked him about his life, and quickly steered the direction of the conversation into asking him if he was happy with his life and what his goals were.  It was awkward, to say the least.  As soon as the customer left, my co-worker proclaimed, "That made me really uncomfortable!"

Now, if a conversation that basically boils down to "would you like to make more money?" is uncomfortable when trust is not present, imagine how it feels when it's about a more sensitive matter.  You just can't ask someone about these things as if you're asking them what they want to eat for lunch.

Once a person has an awkward conversation with their churchy friend that dives into uncomfortable topics of conversation, the next time their churchy friend strikes up a conversation, the person will start feeling uncomfortable, expecting more of the same.  It will take much longer to create that trust because the tiny seed of trust that existed by default has been smashed with a hammer to initiate the relationship.

Further, men just plain don't want to talk about it.  Ask me how things are going at work.  Bring up one of my favorite sports teams.  Say something nice about my daughter.  Other than that, you're pushing it.  I don't want to tell you how I feel about anything--ever!  Well, there's an off chance I might, but if I do, I'll offer it.

...I think the potential reward of authentic community far outweighs the risk of being hurt.

Yes and no.

Authentic community is important, and it merits a certain degree of risk.

Nowhere near everyone in your church will ever be part of an authentic community.  The church is a goldmine for gossips because under the guise of "I'll pray for you" lies the perfect excuse to gossip about me (see definition above).  Being an open book at church isn't running a risk-benefit analysis to determine if the potential reward outweighs the risk.  Being an open book at church is to hand someone a large, sharp knife, turn around, and lean back against the blade and hope that they don't hurt you.  Even if every single person in my church is trustworthy and in authentic community with me, there is going to be somebody who extends that trust to someone who is not--you know, so they can enlist the saints to join together in prayer on my behalf.  If you're looking for authentic community, you're looking for a good small group.  (I refer you to the 8th commandment.)  Your small group should have a rule that what is said in the group stays in the group--this is a requirement because complaint #7 isn't opinion.  It's fact.