Growing up I thought the function of my church was to preserve, protect, and promote the good news of the Gospel to others. This required the correct information be kept intact through devout repetition and memorization to ensure that it could be passed on to the next generation of preservers, protectors, and promoters.
But the problem with a heavy-handed focus on passing our faith on to others is that we can easily forget to make this faith our own. We can become so obsessed with information transmission that we forget this whole God’s love thing really isn’t about information at all.
Information transmission depicts the Gospel as an answer to a cosmic riddle of sorts, necessary for unlocking the gates of heaven for those who properly preserve, protect, and promote the correct answers. It requires us to know the precise password in the correct sequential order and to do everything possible to share the correctly preserved password with others.
I was told in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t believe the right things I would spend eternity tortured in hell, forever separated from God with no chance or hope of redemption.
A theology built upon such linear, sequential, and formulaic thinking sets the tone for us to be constantly afraid that we might not know the correct information, arranged in the correct order, presented in the correct manner. It creates a culture of Christianity that is preoccupied with behaving well and puts an implied emphasis on connecting with God later instead of now. It uses fear, anxiety, and shame to perpetuate a performance-based, behavior-centric self-righteousness designed to control the human spirit and rob us of being with God in the present moment.
Isn’t the gospel meant to be good news?
What’s so good about a god that wants to save us but can’t? Did God send Jesus to save the world or to give it His best shot? How is this pseudo-salvation anything more than trading one form of self-righteousness (obeying the law) for another form of self-righteousness (believing the right things)?
Is there really a new covenant between God and humanity or are we just polishing up the old covenant and calling it version 2.0?
Some would say that God loves us so much that He will let us exercise our free will to choose to go to hell. But are these really our options? Love God or die? Where is the God that Jesus compared to a shepherd that would leave the entire flock of sheep to rescue the single lost lamb?
Because using fear, manipulation, and intimidation to persuade others of God’s love seems a lot like dating at gunpoint.
This approach to God and His love has a way of forcing a high-stakes logical decision of not wanting to burn in hell more than it invites us to dare to know ourselves as loved and valued and enough.
Although I’m scared to death of it, I’m holding out for a love that stands in violent opposition to my performance-based self-righteousness, and instead offers a radical new possibility for something truly scandalous and worthy of being called the Good News to emerge in my life!
If your pastor’s, priest’s, or minister’s role in your life is to hear God on your behalf or to tell you what to think or believe then by all means let them stand in front of you and dish out answers that deprive you from the process of entering into the mystery of God’s love for yourself.
The problem with answers is that they often explain God’s love at the expense of actually experiencing it.
If I am dissatisfied with the answers I am getting in church, I can point the finger back at myself because I am just as much to blame for creating a demand for answers within Christian community as a leader that pretends to have them.
Answers feed a brand of spiritual consumerism that devours and discards. It conditions us to crave biased sound-bites of predetermined programming that reenforce what we want to hear instead of encouraging us to vulnerably engage in raw communal experiences that unleash the power of discovering who and Whose we are.
So before I become disgruntled with incorrect answers, a leader that can’t live up to their promises, or the dull sound of correct answers in my ears, I need to take a good look in the mirror and consider why I am so upset with Christian community or it’s leaders.
Because getting upset with a church or leader for letting you down can be a bit like getting upset with a prostitute for giving you cheap, meaningless sex.
What do we expect to happen when we seek connection in the form of transaction?
It’s too easy to complain about Christian culture, throwing stones as we petition for what we think community should be. It’s too easy to point out the flaws and mistakes, lamenting that if we only had more of this or less of that we would be okay. And it’s too easy to distract myself from the present moment and miss the presence of God by requiring others to be perfect when I am just as full of it as they are.
If you are part of a church community whose leader is creating a culture of correct answers, maybe it doesn’t have to be your cue to leave. On the contrary, it could be an invitation to engage further by taking them off the pedestal of correctness you have mutually constructed and allow yourself to love them as you learn to love yourself.
Because at the end of the day, Christian leaders are full of it.
But they’re also a gift from God.
A gift that acts as a mirror reminding us that we too bring hope and heresy to the table of community. And that grants us permission to disagree and accept instead of discarding others based on their beliefs or behavior.
Because although showmanship, organization, and efficiency might make running a church more comfortable, profitable, and fun- it’s probably the brokenness, messiness, and incompetence that leave room for God to do His best work in us.
Instead of positioning ourselves in the world as a people that have it all together, perhaps we could try owning up to the truth that we are a people that don’t have it all together but are loved and celebrated by God just the same.
May we not miss the miracle of a loving God who continues to reveal Himself to us through bad theology, dysfunctional christian community, and flawed human leadership.
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