The third and final post. The others are here: Part I, Part II
There’s an excellent illustration of this in chapter 8 of The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning:
“On the [Alcoholics Anonymous] calendar it was Year Two. In that time nothing could be seen but two nameless, struggling groups of alcoholics trying to hold their faces up to the light. A newcomer appeared at one of these groups, knocked on the door, and asked to be let in. He talked frankly with the group’s oldest member and quickly established that he was a desperate case. Above all, he wanted to get well. ‘I must tell you that I am the victim of another addiction with a stigmatism even worse than alcoholism. You may not want me among you. Will you let me join your group or not?’
“There was a dilemma. What should the group do? The oldest member summoned two others and, in confidence, laid the explosive facts on their laps. Said he, ‘Well, what about it? If we turn this man away, he’ll soon die. If we let him in, only God knows what trouble he’ll brew. What’s your answer—yes or no?’ At first the elders could only look at the objections. ‘We deal with alcoholics only,’ they said. ‘Should we not sacrifice this one for the sake of the many?’ So went the discussion while the newcomer’s fate hung in the balance.
“Then one of the three spoke in a very different tone. ‘What we are really afraid of,’ he said, ‘is our reputation. We are much more afraid of that people might say than the trouble this alcoholic might bring. As we’ve been talking, five short words have been running through my mind. Something keeps repeating to me, “What would the Master do?”’
“Not another word was said.”
What are pastors really afraid of when they implement policies? Certainly they want the congregation to be safe. But like all of us, pastors also want the church to look good. When it gets down to it, the Christian life gets messy--a new ministry doesn't take off, members of church leadership have a conflict, a busy young mom loses her temper and swears at her kids. Or deeper--an otherwise-put-together man or woman confesses an addiction, a child reveals abuse in the home, a teen enters into severe rebellion. It’s easy to want to hide these parts when we want so badly for people to be drawn to God. We all do this to some extent. Some think of it as guarding their testimony, or wanting to represent God in the best way possible. While this is a wonderful-sounding goal, I think our motives are misguided. Who are we to think God needs our help to draw people to Him? How are we so self-absorbed that we think our efforts can make or break a person’s relationship with God? And let’s be honest—how can we think that we’re convincing anybody that really, we’re happier than they are, and if they join our club they can have it all as well? While I think people as a group are stupid, individuals can be fairly sharp—they pick up on things that are contrived and/or disingenuous. When it comes down to it, I’m just not fooling anyone when I try to put on a happy face all the time. Just like having enough of the right rules and people who exhibit "Christian" behaviors doesn’t make a happy and healthy church.
Part of trusting God is trusting him with our church body as well. Because of our human nature, it will get messy. People will make mistakes and we will be hurt. The difference is learning how to handle things the way God deals with us—grace, compassion, consequences when necessary, honesty, healing, forgiveness, and love. This takes much humility on everybody’s part; no one is ‘above’ mistakes, and when we speak the truth, it needs to be done in love.
Not to mention the implications of this in other parts of life. If I follow my own advice, the wrong way to get the Cat-Daddy to do the dang dishes each night is to nag or impose rules on him. The dishes need to be done…how do I get them done without taking it on myself (after all, I’m the one who slaved over the hot stove)? As scary as it is, it involves my relinquishing control. I can ask him to do dishes, but I can’t make him. I can set boundaries as far as what I will and will not do, but ultimately he’s an adult who makes his own choices, and I have to let him be his own man. It gets messy sometimes, and we’re still learning. As insignificant as it sounds, the dishes are a model for deeper things. I think we wives, in our desire to have a good marriage, have a tendency to try to control our husbands instead of loving them. Maybe not all of us, but it can't be just me. What are my motives in my marriage relationship—am I speaking and acting in love or do I just want other people to think I have a good marriage and a nice house?
On the church level--are we loving people or controlling them? Are we living out of our freedom in Christ, or trying to make God happy with nice, 'Christian' behaviors and habits? Are we wanting to do things for God, or are we trusting Him for what He wants to do for and through us?
Which brings it right back around to my relationship with God. It's good to want a healthy church, a healthy marriage, healthy kids. Am I trying my darnedest to have those things so God will be pleased with me, or am I living out God's grace, trusting Him for my needs & desires because I'm certain that He's already pleased with me?
Well kids, it would appear that I’ve made my points for control vs relationship. I hope my thoughts have provoked your own.
Part I, Part II