The three rules in a dysfunctional family are: Don’t talk. Don’t feel. Don’t trust.
These could just as easily be the rules of a: dysfunctional church family, staff team or denomination.
Let me explain each of these unhealthy rules:
Don’t talk – pretend reality is better than it really is. Don’t talk about the real issues and hindrances in your church. Don’t talk about what needs to change and what is broken. Don’t talk about who you are not reaching. Don’t talk about how people are treating each other and their neighbours. Just say “Nice sermon”, “Good to see you again”, “God will make a way”, “How about that Superbowl” and “We had ___ people here one Sunday.” This happens a lot in our churches, pretending everything is fine, meanwhile we are DYING, we are missing people, we are failing at our mission. We are excellent at not talking about reality. For example, I’ve been invited into churches to talk about reaching the younger generations and while we talk the leaders want to defend everything they ARE doing. More than once I’ve had to stop a church conversation and force them to look at current reality. As I look out at a sea of grey hair I ask “Yes, but how’s that working? How many millennials and generation Z are you reaching for Christ?” Talking about reality is hard work. Leaders often are the strongest reinforcers of this “don’t talk” rule, only talking about what is going well, as their own insecurities and just trying to keep their job and their head above water, perpetuates the culture of “don’t talk.”
Don’t feel – “stuff your feelings.” We’ve been taught and it’s been modelled that church people, especially church leaders don’t get emotional, it is too messy. We’ve learned this one over the long haul, perhaps particularly in our Baptist churches. We’ve been taught emotions can’t be trusted, so don’t get too upset or passionate about the church getting off mission, the neighbourhood around you or the lost. If you get emotional we’ll remind you every time that issue comes up and we won’t trust your judgment on that issue, you’re just too emotionally involved.
Don’t trust –you cannot trust whether someone will actually be there for you when the going gets tough, will have your back or your best interest at heart, so don’t trust. I’ve seen this in churches where I am in a meeting and it is so obvious that everyone is just being polite and nice, being extra careful to not ruffle any feathers, but I can tell we are not getting at the heart of anything because people don’t really trust one another. We’ve substituted trusting one another deeply with “being nice.”
These cultures of “don’t talk, don’t feel, don’t trust” have built up over years in our churches.
So what is the antidote?
Talk, feel and trust again.
In short – vulnerability and transparency.
It is amazing, the Son of God entrusted Himself to us in flesh and blood.
Jesus entrusted Himself to ordinary humans with His words, His emotions and His trust.
And He knows what lurks in our human hearts!
Think of Jesus and the disciples:
Talk – Jesus talked to them and shared both the good and bad of reality. He took the time to explain parables and events away from the crowds. He told them what awaited Him in Jerusalem. He didn’t hide reality from them. He told them His death and resurrection was coming.
Feel – Jesus’ disciples saw Him joyous at weddings, weeping with a widow, weeping over God’s people, angry in the temple, tired at the well, frustrated at the Pharisees, compassionate towards others… Jesus felt deeply and did not hide His emotions.
Trust – Jesus trusted His disciples to do greater things than He himself did. Jesus trusted them to succeed beyond what He could do. Jesus gave the disciples real trust and authority to carry out His mission. Jesus trusted His disciples, trusts us, even when we haven’t proven very trustworthy, with the continuation of His mission to redeem all things and make disciples of all nations.
If Jesus trusted Himself to other human beings, knowing His ultimate security was with His Father, surely I can trust myself to other human beings, with God’s help.
If we are going to get serious about the great commission, if we are going to honestly change course as a church family and get serious about joining God in our neighbourhoods we are going to have to talk, feel and trust. Big time.
So – what can you and I do?
Talk – Ask questions like: Are we on mission? What does it mean to equip people to show and tell the Good News to their neighbours today? Do we know our neighbours? How do we get to know our neighbours? Who are we not currently reaching? What’s not working? Get honest about current reality.
Feel – It is going to get uncomfortable as we talk about reality and ask the tough questions. It’s going to upset some people. You’re going to have doubts. Give yourself and others freedom to express their fears, concerns, but also their hopes and dreams.
Trust – Trust each others’ motives. Trust God will be with us. Trust your team, your volunteers, your church members and adherents. They, all ages, really can do the work of the Gospel. They really can reach their neighbours, if you help them. Everyone is called into mission. Trust people to try some new experiments. Trust God working through ordinary people in the places they live, work, study and play.
Friends, lead the way – talk, feel, trust. God is with us and will take us deeper into needed conversations and into our neighbourhoods.
The most fun and effective teams I’ve been on talk, feel and trust. Thanks CBACyf team! Awesome how we share, trust and work together for the sake of seeing Atlantic Canada changed one neighbourhood at a time. You rock Andrew & Jacqueline! (This is not just a test to see if they read to the end 🙂
-Joining God in our neighbourhoods