Monday, March 8, 2010

The Performance Treadmill

I came across this article and it is good to know that someone also feel like I do..

by Jeff McQuilkin

I think the thing I miss the least about church-as-usual–especially as a staff member–is the pressure to perform, especially during service times. I learned–and I taught–that when it was time for our gathering, all our problems were tabled, all our personal issues were put to the side for the purpose of focusing on God. If we were having a hard time, or a bad day, all that had to go away for however long we were in the service. It was a sincere effort, really, not an attempt to be heartless. I really believed that it honored God to serve Him and the people no matter how I felt at the moment. And there is truth to that, I think, because whenever we can get our minds off ourselves to help others, it’s a healthy thing.

What hurt about it was not the willful turning of my attention to God, nor did I believe He didn’t care about my problems. What hurt was that because I always seemed to be playing a pivotal, seemingly irreplaceable role in the service, when I was in crisis, the leaders seemed to care more about whether I could “pull off” my role in the service than how I was doing personally.

Nobody would have admitted it, no one would have wanted to put it this way. But the attitude was, The Show Must Go On.

As believers, it is definitely important that we gather together, although I really have a broader understanding of what that can look like. But when the church service is the centerpiece of church, the meeting itself becomes more important than the people who are gathering at the meeting. And that, I think, is where setting our issues aside becomes unhealthy. We really weren’t doing it for God. We were doing it for appearances. The Show Must Go On.

I can still see this on the faces of pastors, people I know and care about, people whom I know to be genuinely sincere. They don’t even realize when they are doing it, but there is a fear on Sunday mornings of anything that could disrupt the order of service. Everything must go off without a hitch, everything must be run smoothly. No matter how many times it is protested that church is not a show…it is still run like one. And It Must Go On. No Matter What. It is one of the major reasons why people simply cannot see the Church as people anymore. Church is a building, a program, a gathering.

A show.

The think I like best about not doing that anymore is that I no longer feel enslaved by a mandate to make the Show Go On every week. Toward the end of our 10-year stint leading a house church, I think we finally started to get this. It stopped mattering so much what we did when we gathered; it became more about who we were with, and what we shared together. It wasn’t a community coming together each week to do their duty. It was just a community. And because of that, the things we did and said and talked about–the worshiping together, the focusing on Jesus–became that much more meaningful.

As so many of us look for and discover new ways to be the church, I think part of that process really needs to be putting the gathering of believers into a healthier perspective. It seems to me that in finding a better way, a major priority we as believers should have should be to make our gatherings about God and each other, not about…um…the gathering. Just saying.

Thank you, Jeff.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Building Bridges with the Gay Community

We often find ourselves in awkward situations in which holding to a biblical view of homosexuality will be controversial. In the office, at school, at a party, at church, in conversations with family, friends or neighbors -- talking about what you believe concerning homosexuality can be very difficult. When talking with people who believe homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle option, suggesting that homosexuality is sinful can appear stupid and rude - if not homophobic, unloving and abusive. When dealing with people who think homosexuals are simply sick perverts, it can appear wishy-washy, compromising, liberal and unbiblical to suggest that God loves and forgives sinners who struggle with homosexuality, and that we should do the same.

Different people are tempted in different ways when placed in these situations. Many of us want to sidestep the issue and avoid an unpleasant incident, concerned that the gospel message will get lost or distorted in the conflict, or that people will get the wrong impression and no longer listen. Sometimes we just don't want to bother with the hassle. Others of us can get so frustrated with those who hold to and promote destructive falsehoods that we show little Christ-likeness as we set out to clearly indicate exactly how we think the persons with whom we are speaking are wrong.
The issue of homosexuality takes these rather common relational dynamics and amplifies them. Discussion of homosexuality evokes strong emotions and responses, especially when people disagree, and touches on fundamental convictions about right and wrong, love and justice, heaven and hell. The responsibility of Christians to be both prophets and peacemakers in the midst of heated debate requires us to turn again to the Scriptures for guidance as to how we should represent Christ in a fallen world.

Patiently Listen
My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. - James 1:19-20
Don't just listen for opportunities to find fault or critique. Listen to understand how others feel and think. Listen for what matters to the other people, what they value, what they fear. If you don't understand something, ask questions that encourage the person with whom you are speaking to explain better their position. When a factual claim is made, politely ask to have it substantiated with reference to a verifiable source. You can learn a lot, and demonstrate the kind of respectful hearing you would like to receive. The more you understand an opposing viewpoint, the more you can gain from it. More often than not, folks that are strongly mistaken in one respect are especially perceptive in another. The more you affirm what is true in someone's perspective, the more you can sensitively and credibly address what is errant.

Listening is difficult.
It takes discipline, humility and effort. In this era of sound bites and short attention spans, it can be hard to resist the temptation to speak out at the first opportunity. Listen first, and ask questions to make sure you understand what someone is saying. Let them know you are really listening to them, even though you may disagree. More often than not, the disagreements people have are more complicated than they could possibly work out in the normal course of polite conversation. Attentive listening can pave the way for more serious discussion at a later point. Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city (Proverbs 16:32).

Carefully Discern
Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes. - Proverbs 26:4-5
Any deviation in thought, word or deed from God's revealed will in the Scriptures is what the Bible calls "foolishness." While we should be hesitant to label any person a fool, the Bible is not bashful about saying that some ideas and conduct are foolish and wrong. How we think and how we act matter. Foolishness is something to which we are all vulnerable. While someone may be foolishly espousing defiant falsehoods, it would be equally foolish to be provoked by them into carrying ourselves or thinking in an unwise fashion. Not every situation calls for the same response. It is possible to obey God by both speaking and refraining, depending on the circumstances. Making the right response requires discernment.

Sometimes we need to answer directly someone's foolishness. At other times it may be appropriate to, as it were, let their foolishness speak for itself. Sometimes people will want to oversimplify things into a "Have you stopped beating your wife?" kind of question -- no matter how you answer you will concede their point. Sometimes people will be talking about love or justice, when really they are just defending licentiousness or prejudice. Sometimes people just want to know if you care about what is happening with them or someone they are close to. By listening and discerning, it is possible to speak to the real issues underlying people's arguments, without being trapped by someone else's foolishness. "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted (Galatians 6:1)."
Foolishness is delusional, making the foolish person wise in their own estimation. As hard as it can be to admit that someone else with whom we disagree is right about something, we are all familiar with how hard it can be to admit when we are wrong, especially if others are watching. Do not be surprised that people will hold foolish convictions with loud impatience. We cannot always, by the power of our persuasive skills, "bring someone around" to a more biblical point of view. When discussing something as complex and controversial as homosexuality, we may not always have "the" answer that will end all argument. We can always provide an example in thought, word and deed that commends itself without argument.

Personally Repent
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them -- do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish." - Luke 13:1-5

Before we can talk about someone else's sin (be it homosexuality, false teaching, or hatred towards people different from ourselves), Jesus calls us to come clean about our own sin. It is easy for us to think that, because we have a right point to make, our motives in making that point are also right. What are you wanting to achieve when you answer someone? Do you want to win an argument? Do you want to assure yourself that you are not a coward by standing up for the Lord? Do you want someone to approve of you? Do you want to care about this person, or do you just want them to shut up? Do you trust God to accomplish his purposes despite what this person is saying or doing, or do you think you have to make it happen yourself? Are you trying to make a wrong world right, a messy world neat, a complex world simple, or are you trying to love and help people made in God's image who live with you in a complicated and fallen world?

Especially in heated discussion or debate, there is usually ample opportunity for everyone on every side to examine their motives and actions and come up short. It is always easier to see someone else's faults than it is to see our own. Only when we have experienced God's forgiveness of our sin can we responsibly recommend that grace to others. We need the kind of maturity that desires, not so much for people to be shown wrong, but for them to be loved and forgiven in the same way we have been loved and forgiven in Christ. Then we can speak the truth of the gospel with the compassion with which God has spoken that same truth to us. "How can you say to your brother, `Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye (Matthew 7:4-5)."

Gently Instruct
Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. - 2 Timothy 2:23-26

There is a difference between obedient witness and stupid arguments, between quarreling and kindness, between gentle instruction and resentful pontificating. While we often equate boldness with sternness, or instruction with insistence, the Bible calls us to be both wise and gentle. This means preparing ourselves, both our minds and our hearts, in advance. We should not assume that our beliefs and attitudes are always correct, but instead we should look to be instructed from God's word ourselves before we presume to instruct others. We need to take time on a regular basis both to learn from God's word and to study the arguments made against it. We need to pray for God to conform us to the likeness of Christ whom we seek to serve, even as we talk with those who would deny him with their words or actions. Jesus said, "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16)."

We are called to gracious disagreement, humble opposition, gentle instruction. Speaking God's truth will inevitably create conflict. We need to make every effort to have that truth - and not our sinful attitudes and actions - be the cause of such conflict. Many times people will object so vehemently to the truth of the gospel that your gentle manner will speak louder than any words. We are not required to argue someone into repentance, or to be completely perfect in our attitudes, in order for God to accomplish his purposes. It is God who leads people to repentance. Our responsibility is to be faithful to God and to his word, and to give him glory as he works out his will through us his earthen vessels. "The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4-5)."

Mercifully Pursue
Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear -- hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh. -Jude 22-23
God calls us to be neither reclusive nor rude, but instead to move boldly into confusing, high stakes situations with the gospel of God's mercy. We must bring the gospel of God's grace where it is most needed: to the vocally anti-Christian pro-gay activist, or to the mild-mannered clergy who says the love of Jesus means affirming homosexuality as God's gift; to the quietly confused and scared teenager, or to the frantic parent; to the silently shattered spouse, or to the respectable and bigoted conservative. All of these people need God's mercy in Christ. Mercy is more than giving people your opinion in a conversation -- it means practically caring for them as opportunity allows, with your time, attention, compassion and assistance.

Showing mercy does not mean turning a blind eye to sin. On the contrary, it means taking sin very seriously, and seeking to help people immersed in its consequences. This doesn't mean being pushy with your help when it is not welcome. It does mean being patiently and persistently available to help those who live in a fallen world. Sometimes just being willing to talk without arguing can be the most merciful thing you can do. Sometimes saying what you believe in a way that doesn't require a person to agree or disagree can create space in which they can think about what they believe without feeling under pressure to have an answer. Sometimes showing mercy means building relationships with people you might not want to be close to; sometimes it may mean setting or respecting boundaries in relationships despite what people think. Mercy may be the last thing you want to show someone that you see as perpetrating harmful sin against themselves or others. Yet this is how God has revealed his mercy to us, and this is how he has called us to represent him to others.

Some people don't want to hear about God's righteousness; others don't want to hear about his mercy. Others are caught in the middle, thinking they have to choose between Christ and compassion, truth and love. It takes courage and humility, patience and persistence to listen, discern, repent, instruct and pursue as we should. To be Christ-like requires us to be more than we are, to look to and depend upon him who can make us like himself. "With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 )."