How to Spot Phony Transformation.
When Robert wore a suit to church we immediately knew we’d done something seriously wrong.
It’s not that wearing a suit was such a terrible thing to do. His suit was presentable enough and he and his wife had evidently gone to great trouble to dress him like the “spiritual men” in the church.
The “spiritual men” were all much older and had worn suits to church all their lives. They knew how to behave in church and they had their ways of correcting those who didn’t.
The pastor had worked hard to protect Robert from the self-appointed “enforcers of the standard” but they had their ways and Robert was now displaying the fact that they had won. Robert was taking steps to look like them.
The real problem was that Robert wasn’t one bit like these guys. There was nothing wrong with them as people – they were sincere and good-hearted, they’d worked hard all their lives, provided for their families and dutifully obeyed their wives. They really wanted Robert to succeed in his new life as a Christian and wanted to teach him the right way to do things. Their motives were good, their heart was true but their actions were seriously misguided. At some level they were convinced that Robert would not be truly converted until he became one of them. It all began with conformity to the dress code. He would need to learn how to behave in the “church culture” so he could succeed as they had.
So what was the problem?
Apart from being human and male, Robert had little in common with these men. He came from a dysfunctional world of abuse and neglect. He’s spent long periods of his childhood locked in a closet by his paranoid mother and it had an effect on him. He was on permanent (and contrived) disability and hadn’t worked for years. His wife was the world expert on working the welfare system to her advantage and she derived great satisfaction from managing her family and the entourage of needy people who attached themselves to her. She had come into contact with the church through a community food program and had seen the advantage of a new group to exploit. She gave Robert permission to attend church meetings regularly.
The church was wrestling with the concept of re-inventing itself to become relevant to its community once more (as it had been forty years before) but there was the inevitable conflict over how that could best be done. The old folks (vast majority) remembered the good old days and wanted to train newcomers to be just like they were forty years ago: it had worked well for them so it obviously would work well for a new generation. They couldn’t see that the “raw material” was significantly different in almost every way from what they had been. They conveniently forgot that their dream had been escaping them for forty years and that they had succeeded in driving their own children from the church.
So the problem was:
We’d told Robert he needed to pretend he was something he wasn’t, to play act in order to gain approval. We were imposing standards – without realizing it – setting him up to think he needed to fake it to be acceptable.
We were teaching him to be something he wasn’t and to do things he’d never do at any other time, we weren’t being real; his life was vastly different from theirs, his needs were too, this was no case of creating a “mini-me.”
Robert had real and significant needs in every aspect of his life and his transformation would be a deep work of connecting with God. Without transformation he would soon fall away. He needed careful and insightful mentoring and we were giving him messages about dress code and how to behave in church. There’s nothing quite like majoring on the minors, fiddling while the city burns. We needed to be the ones building bridges to him, learning how his world worked, engaging him on the real challenges he faced but the message we were giving was that he should learn the dying church culture so he would be acceptable (to us and therefore to God!) We were teaching him that if he did the right things we would accept him; obviously the same thing applied to God, if Robert did the right things he would be acceptable. The better his performance, the greater his acceptability.
Wear a suit and you will encounter the power of God in your life? (Things are looking up for Wall street!) Focus on the externals, major on the trivial, Why worry about the essentials when here’s so many irrelevant things to do?
So what is the real challenge the Roberts of this world bring to us?
Could this happen in a “contemporary” church?
. . .
Posted on February 7, 2012, in Communicating faith, Self-awareness, vision and tagged being myself, Christianity, conformity and faith, discipleship, Dress code, legalism, power of God, Religion and Spirituality, revitalized church, transformation, welfare system. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.