Pop culture, in my experience, seems to define God very differently from how the Bible depicts Him. What do you think? Is this diagram fairly accurate?
Graph made with the help of GraphJam FlashBuilder.
Pop culture, in my experience, seems to define God very differently from how the Bible depicts Him. What do you think? Is this diagram fairly accurate?
Graph made with the help of GraphJam FlashBuilder.
Part of being a modern Christian is being aware of what’s going on in the larger Christian world–knowing what others are saying, writing, and doing in the faith. Another part is learning from and helping fellow Christians, because we’re all on this journey together! Here are some awesomely helpful sites for just those purposes:
God’s Yellow Pages
Selected Bible verses for comfort and advice when you’re suffering in any way.
Walking with God is a blessed life, but not always easy! This site offers everything from personal devotionals to advice about family and church life.
Want to know what’s going in the Christian world these days? ChristianityToday has got you covered!
This one-page resource gives dozens and dozens of resource links for any believer (or anyone who’s curious about Christianity).
All over America, and I would guess worldwide, Christian churches lose quite a few of their young college- and career-age members to lack of attendance. This is not a new phenomenon; this age group, the very age group I’m in, is a difficult age to reach, because many of us go away from home to college and are in a totally new environment, or we’re busy with beginning our careers. But even the churches in college towns can’t often get much steady attendance from students who attend the local college(s). I should know–my church is right near a college town, and it’s rare for more than 5 people to attend either our Sunday School class or our coffee shop fellowship meetings.
Church officials and writers have been researching and writing about this issue for a long time; one recent article I found, College Students and Church Attendance: The Facts, states that church attendance by college students falls drastically as they get farther along in their degrees. Other articles seek to explain this phenomenon: Why Students Abandon Their Faith: Lessons from William Wilberforce and Why Teens Leave the Church Upon Entering College are two examples.
Many people who examine this issue blame several factors for this phenomenon:
I admit, all these negative influences do get in the way of faith; I would add that the heavy mental load of pursuing an education (and later a career) also keep some of my age group away from the church during these years. BUT I also believe that the church in general falters when it comes to reaching college/career-age people. It can either fail to recognize or refuse to believe that its behavior toward this age group could be pushing their young adult members away, too.
An Unresponsive, Uncaring Church: A Major Part of the Problem
What do I mean by this? Think about a child, being brought up regularly attending church. He or she grows up, moving from level to level in the children’s program and then in the youth program. But once that young person graduates from high school, there is suddenly no real “place” for them in the church. There is no dedicated “young adults’ area” in most churches, not the same way there are dedicated “children’s areas” or “youth areas.” There are likely far fewer of their church friends left in the Sunday School class they get assigned to next, since so many kids leave their homes (and home churches) and go to college somewhere far away. In short, their church experience becomes far less inviting, far less familiar, just because their age changes. It’s almost like the church forgets about them, or forgets to have a ministry waiting for them and their friends when they return home.
I saw it happen to friends during college; one of the girls on my hall was very sad upon returning to the dorm one Sunday night. I asked her what happened, and she said “I went to my home church this morning, but it didn’t feel like home anymore.” There was no “group” of people her age to meet with, no one who greeted her as if they had missed her; it was as if the church had closed their minds to her when she started college. Though she attempted to reconnect with her home church a few times, she eventually quit trying to go to church altogether by the end of the year.
I’ve felt that same sort of isolation, that same sort of “twisting in the wind” feeling, as a college and career-age person myself. What if you walked into a church, even your “home” church, and had no idea where you belong, and no one greeted you or helped you, but looked at you as if you had been judged and found lacking? Would you ever want to come back? That is what many of my age group face when they go to church–they feel like they are an unwanted presence. When the church makes a college student or young career person feel like he or she is insignificant and unwanted, they do the age group as a whole a major disservice.
It’s important to remember that not all of us are out drinking every night, partying every Friday, and having random sex with strangers, nor are we all “losing our religion” because of being taught by atheist or open-minded teachers. And not all of us are so weak in our faith that we can be torn away from the church within a few weekends of being in college. True, these influences are out there, but being rejected by the church or being shoved aside is a bigger threat to college-age faith than any of the influences I just named.
My Solution: Help Us Feel Useful and WANTED!
The best way for college- and career-age people to be included in the church is to help them begin to serve in the church, assisting and even taking over ministries which need attention.
This might seem a strange suggestion at first. Why give the charge of ministries over to people who might not even be able to be there every Sunday? Why take ministries away from people who have handled them for years?
Actually, I think this line of thinking is part of the problem.
The Church Needs Young People to Serve, and We Need to Feel that the Church Wants Us
Firstly, if young people are the future of the church, as we so often like to say, then they must have experience in helping with the church’s various ministries, so that they know how to run the church when the elders have passed away. Not trusting younger folks with any assistant positions because they’re somehow “vulnerable” and “immature” will only cripple the church in the long run, because you’ll end up with a generation or two of people who simply do not know how to run these ministries at all.
Secondly, it seems at least to me that people tend to hang on to their volunteer ministry “jobs” within the church for a long time, even refusing to have any help with it at all, because it’s somehow “their” ministry. The problem: when that person dies or leaves the church, there is no one there to take up the torch and carry it again, because no one else knows how to handle that ministry. This is a HUGE problem for church longevity, not to mention the sin of pride. (Think about it: if you can’t let go of a ministry because you believe you’re the only one who can do it “right,” then are you doing it for God, or doing it for pride’s sake?)
I am most certainly not advocating the removal of dedicated and faithful church members from their long-held volunteer posts simply because younger people want to take over a ministry–that would be no kind of reward for their years of Godly service. But, perhaps as part of that Godly service, these longstanding, mature believers could use their experience to mentor and guide younger ones. It’s not about “training your replacement,” necessarily, but about creating a legacy of service and passing it down to the next generation of church members.
College/Career Age Class: Church Assistants and a Mentoring Program in One
My suggestion is: what if the older youth had something like a “shadowing” program to learn about the various ministries of the church? By asking those who run the various ministries, like the Children’s Ministry, the Music Ministry, Outreach, Sound Booth, Wednesday Night Supper, Men’s Work Day, etc., the youth could learn more about what it takes to run those ministries. Then, they could individually figure out for themselves which one they’d like to help with.
Then, once the students reach college/career age, they could begin assisting with those ministries, and even take some of them over if deemed necessary by the church leadership. Along the way, they would be mentored and guided in these ministries and in their faith by mature believers, receiving a spiritual higher education at the same time they are aiding the church itself. Not only would such trained young people be a boon to their home church, but they might even feel confident enough to help out a church local to their college area as well because they have this past experience.
Why do I suggest this course of action? Because personally, my position as a Sunday School teacher has given me more confidence within the church, and has made me accountable. If I’m not there every Sunday, it affects others negatively, and people miss me; if I want to be a good teacher of the Word, I must be knowledgeable about it and be able to point others to interpretations of it. I am one of the rare few college- and career-age people who has stayed within the church, precisely because I feel valuable and vital to the church’s workings. And I’d feel safe in guessing that others of my age group would feel the same way if given leadership or assistant positions in church ministries.
I recognize that not all college/career-age people have leadership skills, nor are all of us necessarily the most dependable. But God gives each of us a gift to share in ministry. If a church takes the time to help a young believer develop that spiritual gift and use it to aid the body of Christ, then it’s ultimately for the betterment of that young person as well as the church they attend. And it all glorifies God in the process.
Bottom Line: Connect with Us, and We’ll Connect with You
To combat these negative influences that so many church writers speak of, the church must be a vibrant presence in a college/career person’s life. The church must welcome my age group, must be willing to mentor and nurture such believers at a time when we need our church family the most, when we need a body of believers to be a part of. I think this is one of the best ways to make the church essential and relevant to my age group. Serving and being a vital part of the church has helped me grow in my faith, and I believe it can help my whole age group come back to be part of the body of Christ, too.
I catch myself doing it sometimes, and you’ve probably caught yourself doing it too. Judging, gossiping, disapproving, or feeling superior to someone else…and much of it happening within the church, supposedly a haven of compassion, forgiveness, and love.
As one who has spent time both outside the church and inside it, I find this puzzling, but not surprising. We’re all humans, after all, and we make mistakes; we get irritated at each other, say things we shouldn’t, and let darker emotions lead us to make snap decisions about others. But too often, we Christians often act as if we never sin in this manner (because that’s what it is: sin). Instead of forgiving, loving, and showing compassion to other believers within the church (or to nonbelievers outside it), we sometimes show off a more judgmental, self-righteous, and downright isolationist attitude.
Problem #1: Pride
For instance, heated arguments in the church can crop up over the most petty things, like “who gets to direct this ministry,” “what music we worship with/don’t worship with in this church,” “what kind of decorations to use/not use,” etc. And more hurt feelings (and subtle grudges) result from this than we care to admit. We all want recognition for what we’re doing for the church, but sometimes the pursuit of that recognition can obscure the reason WHY we’re doing it.
Sometimes I just want to scream, “What does it matter, as long as it’s for God?” And then I catch myself wanting a solo in the next choir special. It happens to us ALL, even if we’re trying our best to live as God would have us live. Pride and the desire for recognition/praise is a human thing, but I believe it must be battled, especially in the church where our primary intent is to praise God.
Problem #2: Judgmental Thinking
We’ve all thought it at one time: “So-and-so doesn’t belong in MY church. They aren’t like me at all.” There’s that one person whom you just don’t feel comfortable around, who just gets on your nerves. Maybe they’re too casual and loud with their worship, or maybe they look you up and down as if they’ve just judged you and found you lacking. Maybe they don’t dress “right” for church (read: not the way you dress), or maybe they seem like they want to turn the church into a rigid political institution with God just kind of thrown in there somewhere.
When we feel uncomfortable around others, we tend to judge them more harshly. It happens to me just as it happens to other Christians; there have been times when people have said stuff within the church and it just crawls all over me. I wind up thinking, “How can THEY call themselves Christian? How dare they! I’M certainly more Christian than they are!”
And there’s the problem. When we start comparing others to ourselves and finding them lacking in comparison to us, we’ve taken our attention completely away from God. When we focus on how much WE’RE holy and how righteous WE are, we utterly forget to worship God because we’re too busy worshipping ourselves. That’s where judgmental thinking really comes from, and it’s an insidious little thing that creeps into everyone’s mind at some time.
Problem #3: Isolationism
Have you ever noticed that we Christians can function as a rather insular group? Sometimes it feels, at least to me, as if churches are less like worship centers and more like exclusive social clubs, where you have to have a special password to even get in the door, and when you get in, everybody is divided up into little cliques that don’t really talk to each other.
I agree that it is important to surround yourself with other Christians, especially if you’re new to the faith, so that you don’t fall back into sinful lifestyles and habits. But sometimes we go a little too far to the other extreme, even refusing to talk to or hang out with people because they “aren’t Christian,” as if being in the presence of nonbelievers will somehow “taint” us.
Jesus Himself caused a little controversy when He went to eat with Zacchaeus the tax collector (Luke 19:1-9). People begun to rumble about Jesus “[going] to be the guest of a sinner” (NIV translation). But Jesus, in this instance and many others, went to people who didn’t necessarily believe in Him yet, breaking bread with them and being with them. And most often, His very presence among them and His serene, compassionate attitude changed their hearts. Why, then, do we Christians sometimes act as if we’re too “holy” or “righteous” to go among nonbelievers, when the Son of God was not afraid to do so?
Coming from my own experience, I believe that most of the answer lies in our human desire for comfort and familiarity. Doing things that are new and challenging requires courage and deep-rooted security in oneself, and I can definitely say I lack that in most areas of my life. I don’t feel qualified to verbally witness to others, for instance, because I can’t quote chapter and verse off the top of my head (I had to take quite a while to look up the passages I just referenced in the last paragraph, for instance). And I’m sure I’m not the only Christian who has these secret fears; sometimes we don’t reach out to nonbelievers because we are afraid of rejection, anger, or being caught without knowledge.
However, the other side of the issue must be addressed, too–when we have already judged someone else harshly for being a nonbeliever, we are more likely to be unfriendly to them. Is that what Jesus would have us do? I can tell you from personal experience that some of the harshest people I’ve ever been around have also been very rigidly Christian–so rigid in their faith, in fact, that I thought they would splinter apart if they moved a fraction of an inch. They were hard to get to know and harder to talk to about faith; everything I talked about, it seemed, met with a disapproving glare or frown. Is it any wonder less people are interested in Christianity, if this is the only face of Christianity they ever see?
Jesus’ example, however, shows us all that sometimes all we need to be is compassionate and approachable. Shyness or visual signs of disapproval can only further isolate us as Christians from the world. I’m not saying we go to every rough-and-tumble bar, knock a few back, and end up falling out of our own faith practice, but we do need to go where people need to hear about Jesus, and we do need to share about Jesus in a personal, gentle manner. And, after all, who are we more likely to be friendly with–a stranger who doesn’t talk to us at all, a stranger who stares daggers at us, or a stranger who smiles, talks and laughs with us?
I think these three big problems really hurt the Christian church and its perception in the secular world, as well as hurting worship and feelings between believers. Pride, judgmental attitudes, and isolationism are hard to root out–believe me, I know, since I’ve been trying to expunge such behavior from my own life. But I truly believe we as Christians will be better examples of Jesus’ teachings if we strive to be as forgiving, compassionate, and loving as He taught.
Before I begin: I am not discussing the legality or ethics of abortion in this post, as that part of the issue is way too politically hot to handle. Instead, I am attempting to define the reasons behind why a woman may choose abortion, rather than choose to have her baby and raise it, or have her baby and give him or her up for adoption.
The “whys” of this decision are often lost between heated debates on whether abortion should be legal and whether it is moral. But I believe that “why” is a very important facet of this issue, and must be discussed.
Worldwide, annually, 40-50 million women choose to have abortions, according to the World Health Organization. Why would any woman choose this dangerous procedure, which could end up endangering her own life as well as destroying the life of her child?
I believe, personally, that the women who choose abortion do so out of shame and fear, because a large percentage of these women have become mothers outside of marriage. As far as society has come in women’s rights, even in America, there is still a stigma against “unwed mothers” that almost refuses to be obliterated. This, I believe, is the root cause for many abortions, if not all.
For these women, their growing bellies are an exterior mark of their “sin,” not unlike Hester Prynne’s iconic “A” sewn on the front of her dress. For these women, this time of bearing life within them, which should be happy, is marred by the harsh judgments of others, often to the exclusion of all other human contact. They may no longer feel accepted by family, friends, religious acquaintances, or authority figures; their very way of life is threatened. “How will I provide for this child?” they might ask themselves. “How will I go on with my life now, when no one will help me?”
In this state of emotional turmoil, then, these women are daily faced with their bodies changing, their pregnancy becoming more and more apparent, and it can build a wall between them and even their closest friends. Any person undergoing such a trial is going to try to seek a way out, to remove themselves from the shame and terror they feel. For millions of women around the world each year, they choose abortion (whether legal or illegal), to utterly remove from themselves the condition which has turned their lives completely upside down, and which has threatened to cut them off from the love and support they count on.
How do I know the inner turmoil these women might be facing? Well, for one, I am a fairly empathetic person–I can all too easily imagine the suffering of others. But I can also speak to a personal experience which brought me a little closer to this type of ordeal than I might have been otherwise.
(This is the first time I’ve talked publicly about this experience, and I’m very nervous about revealing this, but I believe it’s key to understanding my individual perspective on this. I am afraid that others will think less of me for admitting to this event, but indeed going through this trauma made me a much stronger person, and brought me closer to God as a result. I fully admit my fault and part in this event, and am by no means considering myself blameless, but only human.)
My Personal Brush with This Issue
When I was 19, still a freshman in college, I began my first serious romantic relationship, with a young man my same age. He was, at first glance, just the type of guy I’d been looking for–ambitious, hardworking, honest, a very “decent” sort of guy.
Everything he told me about himself matched up to the kind of man I had been searching for pretty much all my life. He didn’t drink, smoke, or do drugs, he had a steady job, he was going toward a college degree, and he had a job plan for when he graduated. He also spoke often of marriage and children, of wanting to settle down and raise a family once he had graduated college. Not only that, he was intelligent and philosophical, and I found I could talk with him easily. He seemed perfect for me, and said many times that he was falling deeply in love with me, as I was with him.
Not long into our relationship, though, he wanted to do more physical things with me. I told him, even on the first date, that I wanted to remain a virgin until marriage, and he seemed to understand. However, he began to ask me to do more minor physical things, which I wasn’t entirely comfortable with, either. When I was reticent, he said that “good girlfriends” did these things for their boyfriends, and that his recent ex had done these things…which implied to me that if I didn’t do these things as well, I would stand to lose the bond we had begun to forge.
It’s important to understand my mindset at this point. I was almost literally starved for male romantic attention at this point in my life. I had been thought of as fat, nerdy, and unattractive by most of the male population in my school, and had been rejected by all the guys I liked. For a man to say that he loved me was a heady thought indeed. I didn’t want to lose my chance with this rarest of men (as I thought of him at the time), just because I wasn’t willing to compromise.
So I did compromise a bit, just on the minor things he wanted me to do, telling myself that I was showing him how much I loved him by putting aside my own wants and needs to please him. He had already told me that he planned to marry me one day, and I had pinned all my hopes to that promise. Since I believed he would eventually become my husband, I was reluctant to tell him “no.”
But the compromises kept getting a little bigger, and a little bigger. Finally, one evening a couple of months into our whirlwind relationship, he became entirely too insistent for my liking, and I finally put my foot down. “Honey, I really don’t want to,” I said.
I wanted to say, “Look, there ain’t a ring on my finger, there ain’t a white dress hanging up in the closet–you ain’t gettin’ this.” I wanted to say that I’d done everything he wanted up until that point, and he was making me uncomfortable, but I was too chicken. I was too spineless to really stand up to him, because I still didn’t want to lose him.
He took this in silence, and then suggested another “compromise.” This one was only slightly less crazy than what he’d wanted to do, but at least I wouldn’t be breaking the nearly 10-year-old promise I’d made to myself and to God to be a virgin when I married. I nodded my assent, if a bit fearfully.
…And about a minute later, I pushed away from him and sat on the edge of the bed, literally trembling. I hadn’t had sex with him, I hadn’t done anything, I knew that…but I had never been that close with a man before, and it frightened me. In my horribly naive mind, it suddenly occurred to me: even with the “compromise,” had I done enough to become pregnant?
Looking back on it, I know that it would have been akin to the second Immaculate Conception if I had indeed become pregnant. I really didn’t do ANYTHING. But I was scared enough (and admittedly stupid enough) at the time to fear it.
So began the longest and most frightening week of my life. I was too scared to tell my parents, too scared to tell my friends, too scared to tell anyone. Before that night, I had been a carefree young woman; was I now in danger of becoming one of “those” girls, an unwed mother? I was absolutely terrified of my future, and ashamed of what I had almost let happen, and ashamed that I had compromised my values so much, for someone who should have loved me enough not to ask me for “compromises.”
During this time, my supposedly loving boyfriend tried to ease my mind by telling me “we could just put it up for adoption.” Easy for him to say; it wasn’t his life and his body that stood to be completely changed by this. He had no idea–and made no attempt to understand–why I was in the state of irrational panic I was in. I was 19 and decidedly NOT ready for motherhood; I knew I was partially at fault for agreeing to the “compromise” in the first place, but it was his fault, too, for manipulating and coercing me into doing things I wasn’t comfortable with. I was angry with myself for allowing such a breach of will, and admittedly angry at him that he had put me in this position and was fairly unsympathetic about its repercussions.
In this thoroughly rattled state of mind, thoughts of “escape plans” filtered through. Abortion, as nauseating and repugnant an idea as it was, promised a possible way out, if the worst had happened. I didn’t want to think about killing my baby, if such a child did exist, but I felt I couldn’t live with the shame and the stares, the judgments and the angry questions; I also feared the loss of my own life as I knew it, to be completely subsumed in the (very poor) raising of my child (I had no confidence in my mothering abilities at all). I thought of abortion in the darkest, most terrifying moments of that week, my very brain cells twisted around by my fear running rampant.
Thankfully, almost exactly a week later, my admittedly overblown fears were put to rest by my own body, to put it delicately. But the furor of the event scarred my relationship with my boyfriend and eventually poisoned it. I resisted further attempts he made to be physical with me, which led to his ardor gradually cooling toward me. In the end, I found out, all he had wanted was sex–it didn’t matter which woman gave it to him. All his talk of marrying me, having kids with me after marriage, picket fences, and “happily ever after” (not to mention his graduating college and having a steady job) had been lies, all means to an end. And I was an easy mark; I might as well have had a giant bullseye painted on my heart.
How This Gave Me Perspective
This event in my life gives me a unique female perspective on abortion. I have never had the procedure done, nor have ever needed it, and God willing I never will. But when I found myself in the direst of straits, I thought about it. I, who values human life in every sense, was overwhelmed with such shame and fear at the very thought of being pregnant before I was socially “supposed to be” that I started seeking ways to cover it up, just like any other human being whose mind is stretched taut with stress.
I believe this very mindset, steeped in shame, is what forces a woman to choose abortion. It’s not a happy-go-lucky decision, like “Hey, I’m gonna go get something to eat on my lunch break and then pop over to the clinic for a quick abortion.” It’s a decision made by a person who is likely in a high state of stress, scared, ashamed, and isolated. It’s a decision made by a woman who feels that her pregnancy would bring social shunning, pointed questions, harsh judgments, and the total loss of her family and friends.
Why Might Women Feel This Way?
You might wonder why, in this day and age, women might feel this sort of fear just because they have become pregnant outside of marriage. I believe that it is largely because of our culture.
Our culture is one which still harshly punishes a woman who chooses to engage in sex outside of typical patriarchally-defined states of being like marriage. An unwed mother is a “bad example” of femininity, a “fallen woman,” whereas a man who has many children outside of marriage might be considered a “player” and a “good example” of masculinity. Even though a child is created by two people (and God, of course), if the resulting pregnancy is outside of accepted social bounds, the woman is always “to blame,” and it is the woman who suffers social shame and eventual exile.
Changing Our Thinking
Sadly, in my experience, the very people who champion the life of the unborn baby are most likely the same ones who will point fingers and make negative judgments about the single mother pushing her stroller in public.
I’ve actually been there to witness a couple of my conservative Christian acquaintances making snarky comments under their breath, about a passing woman whom they apparently knew to have had her child outside of marriage. They noted her un-ringed hand and the lack of a man walking with her, and one of them said, “Ugh, look at that–she just flaunts it like she didn’t sin at all.”
This double standard must be addressed! If we claim to love unborn babies enough to fight for them in moral and political arenas, then why can we not show support to the mothers who helped create these children? Why is an unwed mother’s life considered wasted, useless and sinful, while her child’s is held sacred? I do not and never will understand this.
When we uphold this double standard, we are basically telling unwed mothers, “You can’t abort your child because we think it’s wrong, but we won’t support you, give you any helpful advice, or point you to resources that help you with raising it. Oh, and we won’t be your friends either, because you have sinned.” I’m not saying that every unwed mother is entitled to entourages of cheering fans, dinners of caviar, and fancy cars to ride in, but turning our backs on her is as good as signing her unborn child’s death certificate. If there is no financial way for her to raise the child she carries, and every friend and family member has turned from her because of her pregnancy, what is she going to choose to try to stabilize her life?
If God sees fit to create a child, even if we think it happened in “sin,” even if we judge her as a “fallen woman,” then surely Christ’s compassion should drive us to be at least a little more sympathetic. I am reminded here of John 8:2-9, where Jesus saves an adulterous woman from being stoned, reminding the crowd that they, too, have sin in their lives.
I am a Christian myself, and I have read the Old Testament enough to know that part of our society’s customs and mores concerning women who become mothers outside of marriage come from God’s own Word. But God did not tell us to completely abandon anyone to their sin, either. And from what I understand of the New Testament, Jesus wants us to reach out to those who have sinned and lift them up. God also wants us to care for those who are poor and needy, and many unwed mothers find themselves in poverty because they are too busy trying to care for their children to hold down jobs effectively.
In fact, we are all sinners, and we all have to lift each other up and support each other every day. When we ignore and shove aside any woman who finds herself in this situation, we are actually pretending that we are sinless ourselves. In essence, we are lying to ourselves and to God, pretending that our sin isn’t as bad as hers.
I believe that if we stop thinking of unwed mothers as “fallen women,” and if we stop punishing them socially for a “sin” that took two people to do, then perhaps we might stop talking about abortion altogether, because it won’t be an issue anymore. If we remove the climate of female shame and fear from pregnancy outside of marriage, maybe more of these mothers would feel better about carrying their children to term.
I’m not arguing for or against abortion, because that’s not the focus of this post. Instead, I am trying to define the culture that both ridicules abortion and makes it feel necessary for so many women per year. This is what’s happening–a huge double standard, a huge catch-22 for women everywhere. It’s up to us to think differently about this issue, and see ourselves in these women long enough to empathize and support.
I have always said that whenever you get a group of humans together, even a group of Christian humans, you are going to have some manipulation and struggles for control, as well as hurt pride and hurt feelings. From a group of kindergartners to a group of co-workers, humans tend to have power struggles between each other, even if they are so subtle they are never voiced.
But in the Christian church, it seems, power struggles get far more virulent and dangerous to the community than in any other place. When people try to control the church’s direction, worship style, outreach, activities, and even decorations, worship itself gets lost in the confusion, and it can split the church apart before any of the members are truly aware of what’s happened.
Where Good Intentions Become Manipulation/Control: A Handy Chart
I am not saying that church members should not be active in the church, doing things for the church, etc. What I am advising against here is church members saying, “Hey, you do things my way, or I’m taking my tithe elsewhere.” Many times, actions and behavior that start out well-intentioned become manipulative and controlling–here’s a few examples:
|Suggesting a new style of worship music to be integrated with the current choices||Demanding that a new style of worship music be put in place of the old|
|Offering to decorate the church display tables/altar/choir loft/etc.||Refusing to heed anyone else’s ideas about decorations because it’s “your” ministry|
|Coming to the business meetings to learn what needs to be done||Turning the business meeting into a theater for your ideas and yours alone|
|Meeting with the pastor to discuss a part of last week’s sermon you found distressing||Firing off hateful emails to the pastor about the sermon last week|
|Politely disagreeing with a music style choice||Threatening to leave the church if the offending music is not changed|
|Expressing well-reasoned doubts about a new, experimental ministry||Talking spitefully about the experimental ministry getting in the way of your work|
|Discussing funding for all church programs||Demanding that the programs you’re involved in get the most funding|
|Expressing thoughtful concern about the length of the worship service||Complaining (loudly) that the service always lets out too late for you to get to your favorite restaurant|
Those who Try to Control the Church Are Never Happy
It’s important to realize that people who try to control the church are actually missing out. They miss out on their own true worship by fretting and worrying over the church’s organization; by the same token, they make worship nearly impossible for others by being so specific in their “needs.” They are so concerned with making everything “just so” that they end up unhappy that everything can’t be “just so.”
Not only that, people who try to control the church are actually pretending their word and authority goes before God’s on earth. When you try to control everything that a church does just to suit your own needs, the church becomes significantly less about God and more about you. In fact, some churches can end up inadvertently worshipping their wealthiest/most influential members, instead of God. (I’ve seen it happen…more times than I wish.)
This kind of controlling and manipulating behavior is one reason people have begun to draw away from the church, citing that they “hate religion.” (See: the viral Youtube video on that very subject.) When we start worshipping other people’s interests, wants, and needs rather than focusing on God, the whole point of the earthly church is lost.
Compassion and Compromise: The Secret to a Great Church Family Relationship
I believe that compromise, compassion, and understanding is how churches truly function best. Though my church is certainly not free of these human problems, I have been lucky to not feel factions and church politics intruding on my worship and praise. I chose my current church specifically because I felt God moving in it, felt Him working and using the church to do what needed to be done in the wider community. Though we are now going through a little rough patch, I know that the members are still the same good folk I knew when I first joined, and I know God has this under control.
When we use calm discussion, good sense, and humility in dealing with fellow Christians, church problems just seem to dissolve away rather than sit and rankle in our hearts. Realizing that it’s not “all about us,” but rather “all about Jesus,” is a powerful reminder that what we want isn’t as important as praising God. When we put aside the desire for more power, more prestige, more accomplishment, and more pride, God can come into our lives and start doing marvelous works.
One of the leaders of the church said in a recent meeting, “Don’t join a church attempting to change it; join it because it feels like the place God wants you to be.” I think that’s the takeaway message here. Don’t change your particular church to be something that panders to you and only you, and don’t threaten others with taking “influence” and “tithes” elsewhere; instead, be as Christlike, compassionate and forgiving, as you can be. That’s what Christianity is about, isn’t it?