Membership in that exclusive club

Wanted: someone to join this exclusive club I’m in. You don’t have to be perfect; you just have to pretend you are. You must attend at least one weekly meeting, usually on Sunday morning, and buy a new wardrobe so you look the part. You don’t have to change your life, just be good during the meetings. You can talk about other people (use the code phrase “I think we should pray for so-and-so because she’s ____”). You can be closed-minded and judgmental, because of course you must be better than they are because you’re in the club and they’re not. It’s a great club because it comes with its own music and terminology and guidebook, which you don’t have to follow but you do have to tell others to follow. And we can divert attention from our own failings by quoting “well-meaning” pieces of wisdom from this really great book we have to help “others”. Warning, though: if you mess up, we’ll throw you out on your hiney.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want any part of a club like this, a club in which people are insincere, in which they are hypocritical, in which they exclude others not just like them.

So how do I say this without coming across like a member of the aforementioned club: Many Christians are like this. They’d be horrified to hear you suggest such a thing, and the ones who need to hear it will deny that they’re part of that group, but their lives tell a different story. I’ve run into so many people who have told me stories of appalling, stupid, and hurtful things people have done to them and then said, “If that’s Christianity, I don’t want any part of it.” That’s the thing, though: it’s NOT Christianity, or at least not what it’s supposed to be. How many people are turned off by what they think are “club” rules and requirements? How many people won’t show up at events because we’ve said to them, directly or indirectly, that they don’t belong? And how many don’t want to learn more because they’ve seen the way we live and treat people and they don’t want to be like us? Ouch.

Have I done every one of these things at some point during my “membership”? I’m sure of it. But when I do, nobody wants to come with me to the meetings and nobody is inspired to change. Help me, Lord. I want to live authentically. I want to follow the rules, not just tell others what to do. I want to belong, yes, but I also want to be the one who brought in the most new members. I don’t want to just carry a membership card. I want to be transformed. I don’t want to cause anyone to stumble, or turn anyone away. I want to be on the inside what I am on the surface. I want people to look at me and see not just a follower, but through me, see the One who started it all. I want to help and pray and take care of people, not condemn them for their actions or values or the situations that brought them to my attention. I want to accept them, even if they have different beliefs and morals. I want to love them. I want to be everything Christians are called to be. Authentically, sincerely, eternally.

NOTE TO MY READERS (all three of you): This is an issue that has been troubling me for some time. I would love your responses to these questions. Not that this is an easy task, but is living authentically enough? Without being judgmental ourselves, what can we as Christians do to change the perceptions non-Christians have about our religion? How do we show people what Christianity is supposed to be about? How do we convince them that many of those who shout the loudest that they are Christians really do not live by the true principles of their faith (especially since we all mess up and none of us are perfect)?


Anonymous said...

I don't really have answers to your questions. Seems like Jesus did a good job of not being judgemental or even demanding. He just said, "Here's the way to happiness." I think his personality just drew people to him. It occurred to me a few years ago that I don't really know anyone with a strong faith who isn't happy, at least most of the time. Maybe, rather than preaching or judging, it might work to just be peaceful. I try to let my kids see a difference in my attitude after I go to church. I look for opportunities to tell people I'll pray for them. Now do I sound arrogant?

Is living authentically enough? I don't know the right answer, but for me sometimes it just has to be. Most people don't respond well to preaching. I'll try to offer suggestions sometimes, but I think God and the individual are the only ones who can really bring about change, even when it comes to faith.

Anonymous said...

All my childhood through college, I attended the church you described to an extent. It was more about your politics, your position in the community, and who you were more than anything. And if you tried to bring something new or change something, watch out! Never learned about how to have or what it meant to have a relationship with Jesus. Looking back, I now see why there was so much bickering in that church and so little joy. The scary part is that I thought I was saved...I was not saved!

Anyway, we went on Sundays, were good for an hour and then did whatever we wanted for the week. So my husband and I moved on.

To be totally honest with you, when we got to our new church we thought it was too good to be true. The people were too nice, too friendly, etc. But as we have found out, it is just people living in obedience to God's word. Not a church full of perfect people, but a church full of changed and changing and growing people.

Do we stumble? Absolutely? But you know, even when I do, there is wise (Biblical) counsel there for me and I continue to grow in the process. We all stumble. We all want to be better. I want to live according to His word and I have found great joy in doing that. Sometimes I get frustrated when people don't get how simple it is. And I think that is often the turn off from Christianity.

I look at you, I read your writing and I see a true follower of Christ. That is the best example. Your life. Look at Kelly's family, look at her marriage, look at her kids...Christ centered. It works and it shines!

Anonymous said...

It's not just Christians: it's every religious group I've ever been a part of or associated with. It's always been my "secular" friends and family who have been beside me during the hard times. So-called "religious" people left me the minute I didn't (or couldn't) be the perfect one anymore. I avoid any kind of group these days, although I am co-hosting a bi-lesbian book club. But for that, I have to pretend I'm bi! Sadly, it beats pretending I'm a Christian.

Anonymous said...

Kelly, If I'd had you in my church or you as my priest, I would probably still go. I don't even know what I am anymore, but instead of that bothering me, I try to do what I can (outside even the fringes of Christianity) in the ways you describe Christians should. Of course I fail, but at least I don't have to be around the wannabe exclusives, anymore! And, by the way, I don't always agree with what you write, but I always admire your courage to write honestly about what's important to you. These are important issues. Write on! I love you and who you are!!

Dina said...

Kelly, this is good. It's a challenge I think, to find that balance and you are doing beautifully. When Jesus walked the earth, He was all things to everyone; and yet He knew to adapt to any given situation. He did not always heal in the same manner --- sometimes He spoke healing, other times He touched. I think, this is how I am trying to live authentically.

While I can't (and most certainly don't want to) be everything to everyone, I do believe in being who you are. In other words, be real and reality is flawed, sometimes not so nice, sometimes ugly even. It's because of these flaws that makes me cling ever so tightly to my beliefs and my Christianity.

I'm not sure this makes any sense, (I'm a little tired tonight), but that's my input.

Great post.

The Saunders Family said...

I woke up at 3am thinking about this. After reading the different responses, and knowing what I hear from other people myself, I think people get confused by people, society and churches. I think the most important thing to remember is that the absolute truth comes from God's word. No church is perfect, no pastor or Christian is perfect. But the Bible is God's inspired word (2 Tim 3:16), alive and powerful (Hebrews 4:12) and it never changes and never will. God will speak to you through His word and ultimately it is about a relationship with Him, not people in a church or a pastor or anyone else. I pray that people don't lose hope in the Christian faith because of a few people who try to get in the way of the Gospel:(

Ella said...

Having a "man of God" tell you that you were not welcome back to the church was a monumental occurance that nearly swept me away. I very well could have let go and forsaken all I knew to be right and true. That I was worth something and worthy of God's love. That was 4 years ago and it still haunts me and my family to this day. We were the ones who attended every function, tithed faithfully, supported the church in every way. But for what. Why are we hurting anyone? See, I type that and think "how childish" I sound. But oh if we could have child like faith. To just believe, not doubt that Jesus is the way, the truth and the light. Lord, help me to be real with my fellow mankind. Real enough to love, forgive and bless those whom I touch. Help me to forgive those that abused my family. Thank you for healing us.
Thank you Kelly. You are loved