I have a confession to make.
Some Sundays, I don’t feel like taking notes during the sermon, but I do it anyway –in case my fellow parishioners are looking.
Am I one of those whitewashed tombs Jesus spoke of in Matthew 23:27-28?
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
Yesterday, in Let’s Get Real, Part 1, we established that Christians are a bunch of hypocrites and phoneys. We try to look religious on Sunday mornings, but for the rest of the week, we’re often just as petty and self-centred as the rest of our me-first society; as likely to bicker with our spouse or cut someone off in traffic as anyone else.
And according to Michigan megapastor Kent Dobson, this lack of authenticity is not only bad for our churches, it’s bad for us. It’s only when we’re honest about how broken we are that we’ll let our guard down enough for God to enter the picture and begin to fix us.
I’m a big fan of Kent Dobson, and he’s definitely got a point here. But as I suggested yesterday, the position he’s advocating could be taken too far. (Perhaps the risk that it be taken too far is less of a problem than the risk that it not be taken far enough, though.)
But anyway, here’s what I mean:
Would we really want to attend a church where people were fully authentic, all of the time? If all of us only worshipped and participated in church services – and in the Christian life, for that matter – with the enthusiasm we actually felt in that moment, would that really be better than the ‘fake it ’til I make it’ approach we sometimes see now?
Seems to me that a lot less work would get done. That a lot of sermons would be heard by a lot less people, because people would stay home rather than risking going to church just for appearance’s sake. That offering plates would be a lot lighter, as people only gave what they authentically ‘felt called’ to give.
Would God really be able to do more with that than He does with our half-hearted efforts, motivated sometimes by a guilty conscience rather than a generous spirit? Is doing the right thing, partly for the wrong reason, worse than doing nothing?
If everyone made sure to actually answer the question honestly every time they were asked, ‘How’s it going?’ would that really be better? There’s a fine line between sharing your burdens and just plain whining, after all. And wading through an ankle-deep flood of frivolous complaints will make even the most dedicated brothers and sisters less effective at walking with you through times when you truly need them.
OK, back to this post’s opening confession.
As I said, I sometimes take notes during sermons even if I don’t authentically feel like it, just in case other parishioners are watching. My lack of motivation isn’t related to a lack of interest in the sermon, but due to the simple fact that I’m tired or distracted by my own personal baggage.
But since I’m a leader at my church and I sit near the front, I feel like some people might take occasional cues from me. If I don’t appear to be engaged in the sermon, they might subliminally pick up on that vibe and miss something critical. So, sometimes, I take notes for the sake of appearances.
At least, initially.
As I’m taking notes for the sake of others, I often connect more profoundly with the sermon for my own sake. And I’d never have arrived there, if I’d stuck to doing what I authentically ‘felt’ like doing.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that this is how I relate to God sometimes, and I’m probably not alone. I started acting like a Christian long before I authentically ‘felt’ like one. And if I’d waited for those feelings to emerge before clothing myself with Christian behaviours, I’d probably still be waiting.
Long story short (too late): Habits can be very helpful. There are aspects of authenticity that are sometimes better left to the eternal and internal.
But what if there’s also a bigger spiritual force at work here than that pragmatic truism?
What if Christians who behave better in church than they do the rest of the week aren’t, at their core, hypocrites? What if they’re flawed people doing their best to be the best they can be, for the most important 90 minutes of their week? Maybe they want to be clean and tidy and optimistic and friendly all week long, but an hour and a half on Sunday mornings is all they can manage. Isn’t that better than nothing?
There’s a fine line between being inauthentic and doing your best to live like you’re the person God created you to be, after all.
In Philippians 3:16, Paul challenges, ‘Only let us live up to what we have already attained.’ So maybe we’ve got it backwards. Maybe it’s in the very act of choosing to live in response to God’s saving grace as often and as well as we can manage (even if it’s only at church, at least for starters) that we’re at our most authentic – not when we default to behaving according to the way we currently feel.
Peace be with you.