Brant Hansen opines on the recovery of Gary Smalley, noting how Gary went from all-good to was-bad-but-now-all-good without any real mention of what came between… the “bad” part. The IMonk takes note and adds on about the cult of Christian celebrity, somewhat tongue-in-cheek at points: “If you believe the entire Christian celebrity culture is a dangerous and polluted waste of mind, heart and money, you must just want to be difficult.” Put me down for just wanting to be difficult.
Just tuned in? At issue is the way in which the Christian culture makes celebrities of people, and the way that they ignore stories of people who struggle, waiting for them to “get better” and come back with a great recovery story. Everyone loves a good recovery story… but nobody wants to hear about sin before it’s become a thing of the past.
Basically, sin isn’t an acceptable subject unless you’ve gotten over it. We want to hear about current victories over past sin, not current struggles with present sin. If you’re still sinning, go away and come back when you’ve gotten over it and have your life back together.
Thinking of my CLB, I remember distinctly the feeling that if I had any sins I was struggling with, I needed to keep them to myself. We valued transparency, but not that much. One little slip and we’d lose the leadership positions we were in. Unless you were high enough up the food chain, that is, where confession of ongoing struggle with sin would net you a bit of a break from ministry until you came back and said it was no longer a temptation. I watched it happen, and learned the ropes. “Brokenness” was apparently not caused by struggling today, but by having struggled yesterday and gotten over it today. This way you could walk around saying you’d “been broken” but still “had victory.” Christians don’t like a mess. If you weren’t high enough up the pecking order, you pretty much had to go away and come back when you had a better recovery story that used enough past tense verbs. The “Before” story was okay, but sub-par. The “After” story was laudable. The “During” story was simply unacceptable.
The “during” is the part where there’s trouble. It’s the part that we don’t want to hear about, and the part where we leave people alone. It’s the part where those who struggle most need help and support and the part where they’re least likely to get it. How terribly sad. If they come through it okay, they’ll have lots of support and friendship… but who needs that kind of fair-weather friend?
New theory: if you aren’t struggling with anything that would be considered a sin anymore, you’re not qualified for leadership. It’s kinda the opposite of the way I saw it practiced… but an ongoing struggle is authentic and honest. The non-struggling leader, on the other hand, is self-deceived… and to be honest, deception is a sin I can live without in a church leader. So go away and come back when you’ve got an “After” story about thinking you don’t have any sin, okay?
I had a conversation with a friend the other day about this same subject. I think it is a problem of grace. We don’t understand grace or how big it truly is and so we judge others based on their sins, especially the present ones. The problem with this is that normally when we judge, we don’t have the person’s best interest in our mind. We read the law and we kill and condemn them for their sinful ways. Jesus though, freed us from the law and put us under grace. He freed us from having to gain salvation by our works. We are accepted by God, not by our actions, but by Christ’s actions. The church continues to fall into a Pharisaic legalism thinking that we should all be perfect and there are just some people that can’t. If we could be perfect Christ would have never come. In a perfect church people should be able to share their shortcomings and get accountability and support, but alas we like to just say, “I’m better than that person and more accepted by God because I didn’t do that. He needs to repent.” Then we walk away leaving that person broken and now separated from the only place on earth where grace is supposed to abound, the church.
Philip Yancey’s book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” tells about a prostitute who was prostituting her 2 year old because it made more money and the woman was in agony about it. When asked if she ever thought about seeking help at a church, she responded saying, “Why would I go there! They’d only make me feel worse.” Church has come a long way from the grace and love of Jesus!
This reminds me of a story from my earlier days in my walk. I had just “prayed the prayer” and was a brand new believer. We were very good friends (and next door neighbors) of the pastor and his family of the church we were going to.
So one Sunday morning I was sitting in the congregation listening to the testimony of one of the elders as he told about his conversion experience. Now he was a U.S. Marine and his conversion took place in either Japan or Okinawa in a barracks and involved a sudden and complete release from bad language. As he put it, he never cursed again from that day to this. And apparently he had been wont to use some very colorful language prior to accepting Jesus into his heart.
At the time I was also struggling with using colorful language. I no longer struggle with it, because I no longer consider it sinful. I watch it because I consider it good manners and to be thoughtful of others with whom I am speaking. But I no longer consider that it’s a sin issue. However, at the time I did. And I was heartbroken. Here God had chosen to wash this man clean and he had no struggles. Why did I have to struggle so hard? What was wrong with me? What had I done wrong in my confessions, or whatever that God did not wash that sin away from me?
I really took this heart for a while. I was weighed down. Then I finally talked to our pastor’s wife about it. I poured my heart out to her. She listened well, as she was very good at that. Then she gave me a long look and simply said, “Well. You haven’t heard him when he’s working on his car.” And she winked at me. Then she said, “Sometimes people aren’t as free of things as they’d like to be.” And that was all she said.
Sonja! I’m shocked. You use “colorful language.” I could never do that…as a Canadian. Nope! However, I am known to use colourful language on occasion. But only if I hit my thumb with a hammer, stub my toe on a table…or listen to most North American charismatic preaching.
As things started going downhill (for us) at our CLB, I started a conversation with the Pastor about problems that I felt existed in the church, and soon the conversation turned into this:
ME: “Pastor, I think this may be a problem in the church” (in as non-confrontational way as possible)
PASTOR: “No, that isn’t a problem, you just don’t know the whole story”
PASTOR’S SERMON ON SUNDAY: “You know, people come to me and tell me that I have this specific problem and I ask God and He tells me that I don’t have that problem. If you ask my wife and kids they would tell you that I don’t sin”
Needless to say, after a few months of this it got rather tiring and that is why our CLB is “LB”. We have been visiting a couple of other churches and have been refreshed to find that there are Pastors out there that do not believe they are perfect, but may not be at that step of admitting to a sin while they are struggling with it. They probably get caught up in the list of requirements to be a pastor and believe that if they are actively struggling (and admit to it) that they are not qualified any more to be a Pastor (or Youth Leader, or Elder, or committee member, etc).
LOL … now I have lemonade in my nose!!! Thanks for that ;-) At least I was able to save my computer screen.
Provocative post, Bro. I’ve been with people who share about the “During”. It sounds like that is what you’d want but there is danger in the “during” becoming the “now and forever more”. I’m sure you’ve been around people who will make the same prayer request over and over and over and over again. “Help me deal with my boss” “Help me develop my quiet time” “Help me be free from my addiction” “Help me be more patient”
We weep together, strive together, mourn over failures, rejoice over victories. We’re doing the right stuff, right?
But I have friends who have not changed their tune for years. That is a bad sign.
Our lives are a series of adventures and the journey sometimes takes us over the same ground but a healthy life and a transforming journey moves past other ground for good. There is always a “Before”–the things we are just becoming aware of but that we can miss because of the clutter in our hearts. There is always a “During”–the cross we pick up today that we must actively bear and conquer in his strength. There is always an “After”–the cup of blessing that must be poured out as a drink offering lest we cling to it as an idol.
In people we’ve known for more than a couple years we should see this life cycle repeated. Maybe not regularly but enough to point to where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going.
This post brings up a great subject. So true about the cult of Christian celebrity. I think this has a lot of damage to the wider church.