Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Attributes of a Serious Church: Non-Manipulative and Introspective

Yesterday I started a list of the attributes of a serious Church. The first two were “Purposeful” and “Holy”. Today “Non-Manipulative” and “Introspective” get added to the list.

Non-Manipulative: Do the leaders of a Church speak the truth without the addition of emotional manipulation? Do the leaders of a Church inform believers or do they control believers?

Occasionally I will take a peak at TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network) as a reminder of why so many otherwise rational people reject the Gospel. As I watch, I can visualize silly believers being led around with a hook in their nose. From the health and wealth presentations, to the ridiculous hairdos, to the forced tears, to the use of fear, to the fake compassion; there is very little but manipulation. God have mercy on their souls. Most people, believers and non-believers, can see right through the drama, but the wake of TBN programming has made true Gospel presentations more difficult.

Sadly, while not as obvious as TBN, most Churches have developed and use their own manipulative techniques in an effort to get desirable results. From parking lot attendants pointing people into parking spaces, to roping off sections of pews, to telling people to get up and shake hands with a stranger, to the inappropriate use of the words “always” and “everyone”, most Churches end up as little versions of TBN.

“Bring a Friend” to Church events are manipulation to the second power. Not only are the leaders of the Church manipulating the regulars in order to get the regulars to do something they may not normally do, but the regulars who succumb to this manipulation then have to go out and manipulate others in order to get others to do what they would normally not do.

Manipulation, no matter how innocent or how small, has a negative effect on people who would otherwise be open to the truth of God. Most of the unbelieving people throughout the world are less likely now to listen to the Gospel because of their past experiences of being manipulated by believers. Serious leaders of serious Churches speak the truth and allow the Holy Spirit to work in the lives of listeners without resorting to dishonest manipulative techniques.

Introspective: Does a Church constantly evaluate and reevaluate the effect it is having on its community? Is a Church just as cognizant of the negative effects of ministry as they are of the positive effects of ministry? Is a Church working at becoming holy?

You can’t get where you are going if you stay where you are. Likewise, a Church can’t get where it’s going if it stays where it is. Becoming more holy requires change. Knowing how to change and what to change requires measurements, analysis, and wisdom.

I can’t even count the number of times I have heard a Church leader claim that Churches need to be outwardly focused, not inwardly focused. This statement is often followed by a sermon about how much evil exists in the outside world. These leaders believe the good people in the Church would have a transforming effect on the people outside of the Church if the good people in the Church were more concerned about the people outside of the Church.

Perhaps, a transforming outward focus has been true in the past and will be true again at some point in the future, but presently in 2007, the people in the Church haven’t even been able to transform themselves, so it is very unlikely they will be able to transform the world. In fact, almost 2000 years after the crucifixion, the world is still the world.

Most studies comparing the lives of believers with the lives of unbelievers show very little difference between the two groups. An outward focus makes no sense when the people in the Church are the same as the people outside the Church.

Serious leaders of serious Churches know that the people inside the Church need to change before the world would or even could ever change. The serious leaders of the serious Churches start with changing themselves before changing others.



Hammertime said...

We may tussle a bit here - but it may merely be, as you mentioned below, just some needed clarification.

Are you saying that a sermon should be just an information briefing? That the monotone is preferred, lest your emphasis upon certain points inflame the emotions of your congregation to action? Should we depart the meeting house saying, "What an interesting talk"? That for me to preach Christ in a way that appeals to the emotions as well as the intellect is false?

God has given us emotions for a reason. I cannot see justification for believing that the work of the church should somehow not involve those emotions. I agree that TBN isn't the standard - but I think Jonathan Edwards might be close.

Do you think that Nathan the prophet manipulated David with his parable of the rich man and the poor man? Do you think that Jesus manipulated his hearers with the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, or the good Samaritan, or the unforgiving servant?

I don't like the term, "manipulation", but it looks like your definition includes these things.

As a man who believes in the sovereignty of God, I am careful with my words. I don't believe that "Jesus died to save YOU", but to say that emotion isn't a part of preaching seems, well, misguided.
Truth moves men.

Buz said...

Mr. Time,

Having been in some churches where manipulation was a tool used, I think there is a difference between honest, emotional motivation and manipulation.

When the preacher describes sin, and the results thereof ... hell, that is a strong motivation of both guilt and fear. Both of which are true and honest.

When the preacher is trying to get some extra money for some project and results to multiple offerings in one service to reach that goal, with an admonition that "if we can't get an extra $10K, people will burn in hell because you would rather spend God's money on your lunch tomorrow than save their souls" that is using manipulation using false guilt.

It may be a fine line to some, but if you have seen it, you know the difference.


David M. Smith said...

Hi Hammer,

Good question!

No, I am not claiming that truth and emotion are separate and distinct entities. When my wife or daughters talk to me, I listen to what they say and how they say it. The emotion they use in describing their thoughts tells me a lot about how important what they are saying is to them.

Likewise, when I listen to a sermon, I not only listen to the words of the Pastor, I try to hear the emotion of the Pastor in order to glean how much he really believes what he is saying when he wanders from accepted orthodoxy. I listen for an appropriate relationship between the words being spoken and the emotion being expressed.

However, while an appropriate emotion can highlight an important truth, an inappropriate emotion can hide a false statement when the listener is caught up in the emotion and is not discerning the words.

In many ways, Pastors and Church leaders are expected to sell the Gospel, not just preach the Gospel. I think this is unfortunate. I realized that manipulation is not always easy to define or discern, but I do want Church leaders to be aware of when they may be stepping over the line.

BTW, thank your for your prayers and for prodding me to not give up in searching for a Church.

Hammertime said...

Good explanations, gentlemen. Thanks for the effort.

David, I would present that the "selling of the gospel" is a function of doctrine. If a man believes that everything we do is our "choice", then that person's "choice" may depend upon how effective I am at manipulating their emotions. However, when we believe that God is sovereign, and that we am still responsible for my actions, we press to preach the truth as clearly as possible without manipulation.

Hammertime said...

By the way, I am pleased to see your obedience in continuing to seek a body of believers for you and your family to gather with. In many areas I am often uncertain about God's will for my life and certainly the lives of others - but in this I am grateful that he kept me obedient in words to you and prayers to Him for you.

Enjoy the blessings, my friend. He has promised them!

David M. Smith said...

Hi Hammer,

I think I needed to start asking people to pray for us. I was praying and I was searching, but I wasn’t finding what I was looking for. I think we are at a Church now where my family and I will be able to be more sacrificial. I really appreciate you. Thanks again.