Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Keeping Up With the Joneses

At a very young age in my life, I heard the term "keeping up with the Joneses" and I knew exactly what it meant. It was a seminal moment in my life; the seed of my contrarian nature. I reasoned that trying to be like, or slightly better than others was a weakness I needed to overcome. Over the years, as I married and had children, I have sometimes surrendered to the wishes of my family, but I am still very aware of many of the manifestations of the innocent need for acceptance and the more devious need for admiration.

The need for acceptance has positive and negative connotations. Organizations with members who have a high need for acceptance are usually very efficient due to conformity. Families with members who have a high need for acceptance will have less conflict. However, these organizations with members who have a high need for acceptance will also have weaknesses due to a lack of diversity. In these cases, the need for acceptance can start as a very positive attribute of an organization and mutate into a very sinful aspect of an organization. Japan at the end of the second World War is an example of an extreme need for acceptance where soldiers were expected and willing to perform suicide missions and civilians were committing suicide in order to preserve their dignity.

The more devious need for admiration also has positive and negative connotations. Leaders are often the people in an organization who want to rise to the top and be noticed for their willingness to do more than the average member. In competitive sports, the need for admiration will drive an athlete to push beyond his or her natural ability into greatness. However, the need for admiration can become very sinful when it becomes a controlling reason for making a decision. Sometimes, the desire for admiration is actually the desire for others to be jealous of our actions or our possessions. The accumulation of debt is a sign that the need for acceptance or admiration has become sinful.

Churches, just like all organizations, are comprised of people hoping for acceptance and needing to be admired. Sometimes the needs are worldly such as a nice car or a big house and sometimes the needs are churchy such as a position on the elder board or the lead role in the passion play. Sometimes these needs can enhance our Church organization and sometimes they can be destructive and sinful.

Jesus instructed his followers to pray and he also modeled for them a consistent and holy prayer life. It is clear he expects us to pray. However, he also warned us to pray with a sincere heart; not in public for public approval, but in private for a time with God. When I hear of a Christian leader who gives 90% of their earnings to charity, I wonder how much of the gift is coming from a pure heart and how much of the gift is a devious Christian need for admiration.

7 comments:

Buz said...

David, you are not allowing for the gift of the spirit of generosity. Years ago, when my wife and I were just out of school and in (what I then thought was a cushy job making over $13K/year!) we gave an inordinate amount to God's work. No one knew about it because we gave support to 10 or 12 missionaries over and above what we gave to the church. The only thing that felt like a sin was the sheer enjoyment we felt in being a part of God's work. Currently we cannot afford to give as much as we would like to God's work and we feel the sadness of missing out in the joy of giving.

If God puts the desire to give 90% of your income to His work, and you can meet your personal obligations on the other 10%, go for it!! If He has not put that desire in your heart don't try to "look good" by doing what you have no business trying to do.

In Acts 5 the writer tells two stories. The first is of some people who felt that God was telling them to sell what they had and use the proceeds to supply the needs of others. The second was of a couple who craved that social status, but were not called to do so. They tried to cheat God and were judged accordingly. Many preachers use this as a text to prompt people not to hold back in their giving. I claim that it is just the opposite ... do not try to pretend that you have the gift of generosity when you do not. Give your tithe and be satisfied with the fact that you have fulfilled what God has commanded.

It is not whether you give 10%, 20%, 50% or 90%, it is WHY you give ... I Cor 13:3

Buz

Steve said...

David,

Great post. Over the past year or so, our family has witnessed a rather gruesome church split, at our church of 17 years. And so, I have been on a sojourn, if you will, of other churches. I have become the guy looking lost in the pew, rather than the well-connected leader in the congregation.

The ensuing months have made me do a LOT of thinking about what Christian lay involvement, leadership, and pastoral roles mean. To confess, I think I have had it wrong in wanting to be one of the "key leader people", and it has a lot to do with my needs for recognition. I am actually looking forward to the second half of my life, so that I can further flesh out what all this means. Jesus was a servant to those closest to him, so should we be. He recognized the little people, the nearly invisible, and so should we. He cared for the unlovely, as should we. He spoke words of life and did completely unexpected and confusing things.

I have spent far too much time the past 10 years or so involved, as an Elder (note how I capitalize) on church committees. In retrospect, not much tends to get done for the Kingdom sometimes in those settings. I need to refix my priorities on the character of Christ.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Buz,

I love your interpretation of Acts 5. Thanks.

Here is how I responded to one of your earlier comments that is also applicable to this comment:

“I think the distinction between giving and spending is not a valid distinction for determining if the money is being used for God’s work. Some charities can do God’s work, but just because an organization is a charity, even a Christian charity, does not mean it is doing God’s work. Likewise, spending could be doing God’s work if it is providing a job for a man or woman who is supporting a family by doing honest work. However, spending for pornography or spending for a car if the spender though it was beyond necessary would be sinful and not God’s work.”

Buz said...

David,

The fundamental difference between giving and spending is not where the money goes or what it does, it is a heart attitude. Am I only willing to "do God's work" when I get something tangible back for it, or am I willing to throw my money down a hole if God tells me to do that?

Buz

David M. Smith said...

Hi Buz,

Obviously I concur that we need to do what God tells us to do regardless of how we perceive the effects of our actions. My struggle, like yours, and hopefully most others is to discern the will of God. It is clear to me that I should treat the poor as if they were Jesus himself. I would even go so far as to say the poor are an attribute of Jesus himself. Therefore, we need to treat them with justice and mercy.

In the absence of a direct command from God, it is up to us to discern the effect our giving or spending will have for God’s purposes. The benefit to us can’t be removed from the decision. When our heart is right, and our mind is involved, there will be a cost and a benefit to everything we do for God.

Buz said...

[If I might break out and put in a note to Steve here ...]

Steve,

There is a purpose to leadership other than self glorification. A person genuinely focussed on service who may have a gift for administration would make an excellent leader. One of the gifts of the spirit IS the gift of administration (Rom 12:8). Self agrandizement is obviously the wrong reason to be in leadership, but that doesn't mean that being in leadership is wrong. Definitely focus on drawing close to Jesus ... once you have that relationship thriving, AND if you believe that you are still being called to leadership, then let the insights you are developing now guide you and be a spur do direct those areas you are involved in to be the ministry of Jesus, not the ministry of the pastor or the local church.

Buz

Hammertime said...

David,
I remain so intrigued by this topic that I linked to it on my blog, looking for more input.

Simply put, it's profound.

I haven't decided where exactly I stand yet, but it's profound thinking, no matter what I choose.