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I was reading an article in my local newspaper on one of Billy Graham’s daughters. She was (rightly) concerned with how we as Christians tend to be plastic and superficial in our Christian walks, at least when we’re in our institutional church buildings. She is quoted to have said,
“Once we’re in the church, we pretend all the sinners are on the outside. We want to keep the rules, and when we can’t, we become shameful and pretend we have it all together.” She goes on to say, “The world is tired of plastic Christians … I told everyone I had it all together, and I was falling apart. And I was scared to death to tell somebody.”
Unfortunately, her experiences are far too common. I too remember how many times in the past I’ve walked into an institutional church building and was greeted by somebody with a “Hi, how are you?” Being concerned to give the kind of answer I knew they wanted, I’d answer with the usual “Fine, thank you.” In truth, I was anything but fine.
Why do we do that? In an attempt to “be” what we’re supposed to be, we lie and put on this mask that everything is OK. Unfortunately, everything is often not OK. The truth is, though, that people don’t want to hear that. If I answered back that this, that, or some other thing is wrong, people would be uncomfortable and not know what to do with it.
Why can we not be real, especially around other Christians? Why are we afraid to “tell it like it is?” Why are we so concerned what other people will think if they find out the truth about our inner turmoil’s and pains?
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So how do we move from being phoney and plastic Christians to being Christians that are real and relevant, not only in the church, but also in the world? The answer lies in genuine love and relationships. The institutional church is really not conducive to either. And if it’s not conducive to either, then why be a part of it? The institutional church, contrary to what they may say, really does not lend itself to developing real relationships. How can it develop real relationships when in it we’re all lined up in neat rows facing the same direction? How can we develop meaningful, non-plastic relationships, when all we’re looking at is the back of the head in front of us? How can each of us “be” Christ to each other in a meaningful and relevant way, practicing the spiritual gifts that God gives each of us, if we continue to depend of a pastor up front to “do” everything and to let us continue to simply be spectators?
When I left the institutional church, the Lord graciously led me to other non-institutional believers with whom I was able to build real relationships. Suddenly, like never before in all my life, I found myself able to genuinely minister to others and to be ministered to by others. Suddenly I was really able to hear and to empathize with a brother or sister who was hurting deep inside, and just as suddenly, they were able to do the same with me when I was hurting. Suddenly we could cry with each other and rejoice with each other. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:26, “When you come together, everyone has…” In the church the way Christ designed it, “everyone has” something to contribute for the wellbeing of all. When you get together with other believers, regardless where it is, do you have every opportunity to contribute what God has given you for the benefit of others? If not, then what are you doing there?
Unfortunately most institutional churches don’t allow for the “everyone has” of 1 Corinthians 14:26. Instead they tend to focus more on the performances of a few individuals up front. What is the result of this? The result is that we become irrelevant, not only to the world around us, but also to each other within the church. Ultimately the result is that we all become “Plastic Christians” whose only real use is to wipe the dust off the pews with the seat of our pants. How sad!