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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Revelations and Relationships

If you have spent a large amount of time around church people, you've probably heard someone correct someone else at some point about the name of the last book in the Bible. Sure, the correct name is "Revelation" as in The Revelation of St. John. I understand the reason most people try to make this correction. In fact, I have often been one of the people doing the correction. There is a concern to help the offender become enlightened. We also want people to know there is only one revelation from God about the end of the world and not multiple ones.

Sometimes though, our corrections come at wrong times. I would argue this happens a lot. If someone feels like I am more concerned with correcting them than having a discussion, the discussion shuts down. Later on, this can cause the relationship to start shutting down too. This is especially true if it happens more than once.

I'm a know-it-all at times. My wife would attest to this fact. I don't know when to shut up.  The good part is that I do know how to apologize and learn when I'm wrong. At least I hope that's the good part. We might be kind and call a child who knows a lot a savant, but by the time we reach adulthood we usually label such a person a jerk if it is not tempered by other things. We all know people like this in our lives (if you're reading this you probably know me and have thought I'm a jerk at one point or another, it's ok, I realize it).

So, why is this important for the church and not just me? The church is full of know-it-alls. In fact, we often set up systems in order for the people who remain a long time in the church to become know-it-alls.  This set up is foundational to having a church which is more systematic and business like than body-like.  We were meant to be a body, not a business. I know this is a tired theme for some people, but I'm focusing on one particular element. How do we teach people without making them experts?

You may be wondering why I would want to do such a thing.  Isn't being an expert a great thing?  Isn't an expert the equivalent of someone who has done extremely well?  The answers to those questions are, "it depends!" What does it depend on? It depends on the way you are evaluating an expert.

In the book Who Owns the Future by Jaron Lanier, we see two models of evaluation compared.  One model tries to encourage outliers or "stars" to appear. For our purposes, these would be experts- people who excel so much that they are beyond everyone else.  The entire point of this first model is to create people who are outliers. The problem with such a model is that by design most people will never achieve this status. The second model is based upon a Bell Curve of success. This model assumes that many more people will achieve a more modest form of success without ever aiming for the outlier position.  In this model, many people are rewarded for doing lots of things well without all striving for the few same things.

That's all well and good, but what does it have to do with the church? Especially given the fact that the book you gained the idea from is a business and management book?

Well, it got me thinking. What has been our goal in the American church? Why do we correct people over things that destroy relationships- like an "s" at the end of a word when the person is maybe only trying to reference something and we turn it into a discussion on meaning? Why do we feel the need to make people right? And that's where it hit home for me.

I believe we try to create Christian super stars in the U.S. Maybe not always, maybe not at every church, but in general I think this is the modus operandi. We continue to operate in a business model because our goals are pragmatic and not grace oriented.  A business cannot operate on grace. Bodies depend on grace for life.  I think this might be Paul's point in 1 Corinthians-  

13:13  Now these three remain:
   faith, hope, and love.
   But the greatest of these is love.
   14:1       Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts, and above all that you may prophesy. (HCSB)

How do we expect to teach people (prophesy, which I take to mean speaking truth) if we don't love them? We can say we love someone, but it is meaningless unless we serve them.  This has to include the way we correct someone. Do we correct from grace or from a need for that person to be right? Do we correct someone because we want to see the body succeed or because we want them to be an expert? Or maybe we correct someone because we want to show them we've already achieved expert status?

Do I think we shouldn't call for excellence in the church? I am arguing for some type of moral middle ground? Is using the Bell Curve to describe the situation an excuse to no longer want the best from people? Answering all these questions definitively- no. I think it is about thinking of people in terms of a whole rather than merely as individuals. We are the body of Christ- not the hand, the eye, or the foot of Christ.

This idea has implications for how we view things like holiness and moral action within the church body. It also has implications for the role of the local church and its leaders. I guess what I'm saying is that it is just a starting place. Let's live with grace as we help people to succeed in a new way. Let's make a go of it together with room for imperfection when it comes to the things that don't matter- which by the way includes an "s."

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