Saturday, August 21, 2010

Do We Need More Confrontation?

I had a disturbing conversation with another pastor this week. This person expressed admiration for a book that has become quite popular right now. His words to me were, "This book really kicks people in the pants so that they will get up and do something." I walked away disturbed for two reasons. First, for the life of me I cannot understand why people think this particular book is so great. It's more of the same message that I've heard all my life in the church: God loves you, you should love God, now show God how you love him. Of course it is a little more nuanced than that, but that was the basic message I got out of it.

The second reason for my disturbing feelings is much greater. I began asking myself if the people in my church really need another kick in the pants. Then I reflected on my church in Houston where I led as an elder for eight years, the people in the church in Vancouver where I served on staff, or the various people in many other congregations with whom I shared life. While I admit that I used to think that people needed a regular brow beating in order to get out of the pew and serve God, I now see things a bit differently. Here are the reasons why:
1. This motivation tactic only produces short-term results. People will respond because they know that they should but after a few months, their previous life patterns rise up and they return back to normal.
2. It taps into people's guilt complex as a motivation. I have come to see that American Christians have a huge guilt motivation button and sadly, pastors assume that pushing it is their duty. That was what motivated me and it was what I used in too many of my sermons as a way to get people to change. But I just don't see Jesus using this approach. Therefore I think that there must be a better way.
3. The people I see gravitating to books like the one mentioned above tend to be committed Christians. When I was first exposed to this book, a friend told me that a mutual friend loved it. After reading it, my thought was that our mutual friend was the last person in the world that needed this book. He is one of the most serious, dedicated, Christ-centered persons I have ever met.
4. In contrast, I don't see this kind of book being a favorite of the single mom with three kids, the struggling to make it couple, the person who is honestly asking what it means to follow Jesus or the young growing new believer. It seems that this message does not resonate as much with the hurting or marginalized.
5. I admit that many people are lazy and unmotivated. They are too busy, committed to all kinds of stuff that have nothing to do with God, and they spend too much money on personal preferences instead of thinking about what God wants. However, when we hit this head on we are addressing the surface "fixes" that people embrace to meet deeper needs that they have not allowed God to heal. I've found that peopel actually do want to serve. They want to give. They want to be the people God has called them to be. It's not like people are sitting around scheming ways that they can short-change God out of what is due him.
5. I've come to see a different way to motivate people to change and serve God. It addresses the deeper issues that cause Christians to sit on the sidelines and miss out on serving God. It's called "the gospel," the good news that God loved us so much that he sent his Son to enter into our death so that we might enter into his life. I have come to see that we need to talk a lot more about what God does and has done than what we are supposed to do. If we actually see what God has done, then we will be transformed from the inside out. I'm not sure how we can turn the grand story of God recorded in our Bibles into a book of moralistic instructions to get people to live rightly but it seems that this is exactly what we've done.

Instead of pulling out the whip and guilting people out of lukewarm and into obedience, why don't we offer people an opportunity for the Spirit to meet their deep needs that keep them from giving love so that love can flow out of them from their core? I'm not interested any more in getting people involved for the sake of involvement. I'm fighting for deep transformation and that requires a fresh encounter with God's great news of radical love.

The good news is about God and what he does, not about what we do. Let's not forget this.

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1 comment:

Randall Neighbour said...

I concur with your sentiments. Butt-kicking sermons and books for sit-and-soak church members don't produce much. It's akin to telling a teenager to "make your bed!" or "eat your vegetables!"