Monday, March 07, 2011

Our Churches as Self-Obsessed Teenagers

My wife Dr. Monique and I recently had a conversation. The topic: the North American church. Monique's earth-shaking observation: Our churches act like self-obsessed teenagers.

Think about it, she said. Self-obsessed teenagers, shoulders slouched, spend all of their time worrying about what others think of them. Every little thing builds into the story they tell. "So and so doesn't like me." "She said that little thing about enzymes in science class just to make fun of me." You remember that time in your life.

However, Monique pointed out, we also remember that one day we realized that other people are positively, absolutely NOT thinking about us. They have other things to think about … like themselves! Or their friends! Or about what other people are thinking about them! That day is a day of freedom for most of us. It means we are finally free just to be and do. Eventually the awkward teenage guy has to stop worrying about what the girl thinks of him and just ask her out. As long as he worries, he is hamstrung.

I'm not sure our churches have arrived at that realization yet. We have spent the last 200 years worrying about what others think about us. Whether the desire to be "relevant" drove us in Liberal Protestant or in evangelical Willow Creek directions, the problem is the same: we worry too much about what others think about us. Book titles that scream that the Church either has to change or die are the equivalent of the glossy, beauty-tip filled, teenage popstar magazine. They encourage self-obsessive behavior and ruin our churches.

It does seem like there is a third way to be church that follows neither the "liberal" or "conservative" relevance paths. It doesn't have a name or a program, but it is characterized by leaders who realize that the world really isn't thinking about the church at all. The world has its own concerns to deal with. The people in your neighborhood are worried about their jobs, their kids, and their tax-rate. They aren't obsessively thinking about us.

This third way isn't unconcerned with context, culture, and relevance. We're just over it. Context, like sh*t, happens. Modernism, post-modernism, neo-classicism - these aren't contexts - they're constructs that are only helpful to a point. Your context is the street your church is on, the length of road between its front door and the streetcar stop, the distance you can walk from your office for coffee or lunch. Context happens, and context is desperately, mundanely local.

What are we as ministers called to be in this third way? Virtuous, I think. Good people. We have to learn to keep our promises to others (especially our church secretaries), to be interested in what other people have to say, and to develop skill for good administration and organization. Developing these skills will require a lot of intense, self-focused work, but that is the work of virtue. We work on ourselves first, for the sake of others.

And when we finally realize that people aren't thinking about us, I think we will finally be free to be and do with and for them. It will be a wonderful day when this awkward teenager finally straightens its back and walks with growing confidence into the future of God's self-giving love.


Matthew said...

why I am obsessed with the Second Vatican Council in a nutshell.

Anonymous said...

Jason, Keep writing, You are on the right track.

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