Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Conviction vs. Guilt...

So, there was a mix-up on one of my previous posts about guilt from a pastoral point of view (it has since been resolved...just a case of misunderstanding), and it got my wheels turning.

Where is the line drawn?

At what point has a pastor crossed the line from exhorting his congregation, and placed them in a spirit of bondage over guilt?

One of the earliest memories I have on the subject was during Summit '94, when Tony Campolo was speaking. He related the story of a (in his mind), promising intern of his.

As I remember the story, he lost track of the intern, and discovered that he had become a plastic surgeon. The venomous diatribe that Mr. Campolo spewed made it seem as if Lucifer himself had turned this kid.

His tone of voice spoke as if being a plastic surgeon was the worst vocation a man could choose, if he neglected ambulance chasing. (I believe his exact words were "He could have been mighty for the Kingdom of God, but instead, he's a PLASTIC SURGEON")

Two weeks later, my dad went in for a surgery.

He had smashed his nose during a bicycle wreck when he and my mom were first dating. For at least 17 years, he had lived with a deviated septum, which affected his breathing, caused him to snore, etc.

Guess what kind of surgeon he had to see?

Yup, you guessed it, a plastic surgeon.

It was at that moment that I realized that from the stage at Long Beach Arena in the Summer of '94, Mr. Campolo had placed thousands of kids in spiritual bondage over his inability to see past his own point of view.

When someone goes to see a Plastic Surgeon, many times they are in a state of low self-esteem, depression, etc. Thanks to Mr. Campolo, those Christians who would heed the word of clergy have quite likely removed themselves that vocation, thus cutting themselves off from people who are in desperate need to experience the Love of God.

Church On The Way had a nasty reputation for getting people to come to its meetings. They would start with "If you consider yourself an ongoing part of this congregation, then you should come to [insert meeting here]". People would come, but they would come out of a sense of obligation than real joy. It should be noted that they have drastically scaled back the usage of that language in exhorting people to attend.

So where is conviction? What does it look like?

The image that comes to my mind is a thousand hamsters in a huge version of those plastic roller-balls you see.

Ignoring food/water/air considerations, let's look at this: a thousand hamsters, thrown in together. How do you get them all to move in the same direction?

Well, there are two ways to do it. The first is for an outside force to push the ball, forcing the hamsters to collectively move. However, they will tumble inside this ball, and not really enjoy the trip. Most people put pastors in this position: on the outside, moving the church as he/she sees fit.

the other way is for the hamsters to all run in the same direction. In this scenario, the pastor is another hamster in the ball. Seeing the hamsters all running, he gets in front, and harnesses the momentum of the running hamsters, guiding them around possible obstacles.

Pulling ourselves out of the analogy, what does this look like?

A pastor's job is to make a congregation spiritually mature. From there, the pastor has to be able to recognize where the church wants to be led to. Right now, a hot point of care is AIDS in Africa. A lot of churches are making big news getting involved with that point of care.

If, however, a church matures, and the point that really strikes home is about Civil rights abuses in Chinese orphanages, the pastor has to recognize that as the conviction of the church, and lead them there. That is where they are most effective, and that is where their passions lay.

If the pastor should show them the latest video of emaciated Africans and tell them that they aren't doing enough to help ease the suffering there, he has just guilted the church.

In our example, the church is/was motivated to help in a way they felt called to. The momentum was moving to assist as they could for Chinese Orphanages, but the pastor used spiritual contexts to make the church feel culpable for not doing enough for the AIDS in Africa crisis.

But at what point does it stop? At what point do you feel called to say, "Yes, that is a tragedy, but the attention/time I can devote to this is minimal".

You can find hundreds of causes to champion. Because you feel drawn to one does not mean that you are ignoring the others, or are somehow less caring.

And yet, it seems perfectly acceptable to throw up a heartbreaking picture, put up a Bible verse that has something to do with it (and very often, is taken out of context), and end with a phrase like, "What are YOU going to do about it?" ("Nothing. I'm busy trying to feed the homeless here in America.")

People should feel the freedom to mature spiritually, then decide how they want to help out. When all the hamsters start running in one direction to solve a problem, and the church learns how to capitalize on that momentum, we'll see true ministry out of a conviction through the Love of God, rather than out of a spirit of bondage over Guilt.

1 comment:

billy said...

First of all, the vision of a thousand hamsters running together in a massive plastic ball is hard to get out of my mind. Disturbing, yet humorous. I think I may have nightmares tonight...

Secondly you are asking a fantastic question here that I (as a pastor) wrestle with frequently.

I think you're at the heart of the issue towards the end of the post when you recommend that the answer lies in cultivating maturity in the community of faith rather than herding hamsters. If we can do a good job helping people to see the world through the eyes of Jesus, care will become a rythm of life for us and not a "guilt trip to guilt trip" opportunism on the part of leaders. I suppose that the difficulty may come when a church might try to focus on a specific care issue as a congregation and they (geniunely) try to rally everyone together around it. There will always be those who are more passionate about one issue over another. At what point is it appropriate to say: As a Church we want to encourage involvement in this particular issue? Even if it is done with the best of motives, could it still be percieved as "guilt tripping?" Probably, but I suppose we might have to risk it in order to experience the joy of moving in the same direction as a community.

Uh oh, I'm imaging those hamsters again...