Do Not Try To Change Me

Is it possible for there to be religious communities that don’t demand change from their members? Can a church, synagogue, mosque or temple… any place where the religious gather in community… still exist without desiring, expecting or pressuring their people to change?

The urgency of change is incumbent upon me and me only. But this only comes about when I see that this is so and so change. I may receive assistance. But in the end I will be transformed by me changing my own mind.

We may read from the Bible, the Torah, the Qu’ran, the Bhagavad Gita or whatever spiritual writings are read in whichever community. We may even teach on them, expound them, explain them and encourage the people to hear them and apply them to their personal lives. But can we do this without an agenda that would like to see the people change into the ideal image we have in our minds of what we want them to be?

When I teach in church, for instance, I always try to communicate a “take it or leave it” attitude. By this I don’t mean, “I don’t give a hoot what you do with this,” but rather, “I freely offer this to you, and you are free to receive it or reject it.People must always be free to make their own choices and decisions. This is also why, during the teaching and especially after, I allow discussion so that people understand I am not trying to cram something down their throats so that they will become the kind of people I want them to be, or that the church would become the kind of fantasy church I want it to become.

Discussion, dialog, debate and even dissension are all essential elements to a person’s right to be who they are or to become what they will to become.

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About David Hayward

David Hayward runs the blog nakedpastor as a graffiti artist on the walls of religion where he critiques religion… specifically Christianity and the church. He also runs the online community The Lasting Supper where people can help themselves discover, explore and live in spiritual freedom.

  • http://www.hempelstudios.com Sarah I

    I think that a religious group ought to expect change, but in the form of growth, not in the form of jamming square people into round holes. Are we not present before God to be changed, to be transformed in some way?

  • http://nakedpastor.com nakedpastor

    Sarah: I think change is urgent and necessary. Yes. But if we can compare a community to a relationship like marriage, only more complicated, perhaps we can see how expecting our spouse to change is not really appropriate to love. I know my wife will change because she is mature and recognizes the urgency of change. In this way I expect change. But in the way of “I expect you to change or else…” that would be inappropriate. Do you see?

  • http://thepreacherlady.wordpress.com preacherlady

    The premise of the church that we come as imperfect people and must change is actually against the teachings of Jesus. It becomes translated into conditional love. When Jesus taught, he taught. Period. He didn’t go to people afterwards and tell them they needed to come for a counselling session to put what he taught into practice. As teachers we are to teach with nothing invested in the outcome. As students we are to take what we hear and put it into action…or not.

    There’s a paradox here. As teachers we know we are delivering the goods when we see lives change…but we are not to demand it. People need to be free to be whatever they want to be but its hard to watch someone spin their wheels when you know you’ve given them the answers 1000 times. I personally had to stop giving regular one-on-one attention to people who were just looking for attention. They can be a drain. However,no matter what they are or do, they still must be loved and nurtured.

    Many years ago, I saw a Catholic priest do something that left him open to a lot of criticism but in the end, was the wisest thing he could have done. There was a woman who was married and had come back to church when it was time for her children to be confirmed. She was having an affair with someone who was also married and the whole neighborhood knew it. The priest allowed her to be a lector at one of the Sunday masses. About 6 weeks into it, she read the scriptures with tears running down her face. She left the lecturn, went out the side door of the church, and called the man and broke off her relationship. The scriptures and being allowed to participate were what changed her. The priest could never have precipitated it and she would have either left the church or felt totally shamed every time she went to church if he had tried.

  • http://logicandimagination.wordpress.com/ Melody Hanson

    @preacherlady. That was an incredible story and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. Wow. That took guts on his part to trust in the conviction of the Holy Spirit. And that is in the end what pastors should do.

    It doesn’t always happen though that people are convicted and many, many of us sinners, yeah, all of us sinners sit in the pew and aren’t always open to the Spirit. It may take years but I guess, speaking from the place of a recovering alcoholic, you are right. God convicts. He does the work to change hearts and that changes people. Let God work. I once heard a statement, in high school, from my youth leader: “You are either moving toward God or away from God. There is no middle place.” Lots of people not responsive to the Spirit of God in the church, it has to be frustrating for pastors, but in the end …

    Pastor’s must speak and trust God to do his work.

    The “Ideal image of what we want them to be” is a strange way to put it. Now you’re talking about what’s in the heart of the Pastor. Gotta leave that to God too, I’m thinking.

  • fishon

    preacherlady
    September 20, 2010 | 7:38 pm

    The premise of the church that we come as imperfect people and must change is actually against the teachings of Jesus. It becomes translated into conditional love. When Jesus taught, he taught. Period. He didn’t go to people afterwards and tell them they needed to come for a counselling session to put what he taught into practice.
    ——”If you love me {Jesus}, you obey what I….”

    ——”Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”

    ——”He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.”

    ——”I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God UNLESS [sounds conditional] he is born again.”

    ——”I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingom of God UNLESS [sounds conditional] he is born of water and the Spirit.”

    Sounds to me like Jesus WAS TELLING the people to “…put what he taught into practice.”

  • Fred

    Is it love when you expect your children to learn how to walk?

  • http://www.emilymacon.blogspot.com/ Emily M.

    I don’t think it’s entirely wrong for churches to hope for change among their people, and I certainly see where Jesus called for it (“Go and sin no more.”) But I think the difference is, and you can see it in some of the other commenters, challenging someone to change without condemning them.

    Along the same lines of what Fred said, would it be wrong to ask your wife to change if she were abusing alcohol or other substances that were clearly detrimental to her? I don’t think many people would say so. You can encourage people to change without condemning them.

    Of course, all of this depends on what you would define as sinful (though I would say “harmful” instead of sinful, as sinful tends to have a bad connotation). That’s when things get REALLY messy..

  • fishon

    Emily M.
    September 20, 2010 | 11:30 pm

    I don’t think it’s entirely wrong for churches to hope for change among their people, and I certainly see where Jesus called for it (“Go and sin no more.”) But I think the difference is, and you can see it in some of the other commenters, challenging someone to change without condemning them.
    —You are absolutly right, Emily. I will be having a hardcore, ex-drug addict giving the communion meditation this coming Sunday. His wife, who has been divored twice, and an ex-drug addict will put her first day in childrens church. They would be the first ones to tell those who are seeking help that they needed expectations. Expectations from those they knew loved them and would help in any way.

    But I do understand what David is driving at. There those in authority, in churches, who perpatrate expectations, and use pressure of things not biblical.

    AND BY THE WAY, DAVID: Jesus taught with and agenda. That the lost would be saved. That is why he came {Lk. 19:10}.

  • http://thepreacherlady.wordpress.com preacherlady

    Jerry…yes, Jesus told people what would work and we as teachers need to also. What I was talking about was the pastors/teachers who go to people and give them a list of things they need to work on. I’m sure the couple in your church asked for help and that’s a whole different deal. The best example I can think of is almost every time I’ve taught on forgiveness and what unforgiveness does to us, there’s always someone who says “I don’t care what you say…I’m NEVER going to forgive him for what he did to me.” Suit yourself…your the one who has to pay the consequences.

  • http://www.photographyandtheology.com dennis the mennis

    I’m not entirely convinced that people ‘really’ change anyway.

  • phil_style

    What’s the big issue with change? Why are we so stubborn and self-centred that we resist change?
    I want to change.
    Change is perhaps the only thing we can hold on to, becasue change provides us with an avenue of hope, that the future might be different, that it might be better.

  • http://nakedpastor.com nakedpastor

    We aren’t against change, but see the urgency of it. We are talking about expectations and pressure.

  • bob

    As I look back on my years as a bible believer, most of the time I was in bondage. Not bondage to sin, but bondage to guilt.

    The church leadership, via the bible, convinced the congregation that certain actions, inactions, and thoughts were “sin”.

    Lets see – selfish prayer, lack of prayer, lust, greed, pride, eating shellfish, eating catfish, neglecting bible study, neglecting witnessing, neglecting tithing, etc, etc.

    For 25 years I struggled with this guilt. I knew I just couldn’t be what I believed God and my church leadership expected or hoped of me.

    I had a dear friend who was a traveling evangelist working out of one church I attended. He would always ask me when he came back into town, “So bob, what has the Lord shown you over the past week?” Of course, I couldn’t point out a single thing the Lord had shown me, so I felt guilty that I was not spiritually in-tune with God.

    One of fishons passages above was also another source of constant guilt – “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.” Did I “love” Jesus? I thought I did. I wanted to. But if I disobeyed even one of Jesus’s commands, it was obvious that I didn’t love him.

    Guilt, Guilt, Guilt.

    Can some of you understand why, the day I became an atheist was one of the happiest, most liberating days of my life?

    From that day on I no longer subscribed to the idea of “sins” against a God. So there was no feelings of guilt associated with – selfish prayer, lack of prayer, lust, greed, pride, eating shellfish, eating catfish, neglecting bible study, neglecting witnessing, neglecting tithing, etc, etc.

    So, as I look back, I see that I never had a “sin” problem. My problem was completely and entirely a guilt problem…for 25 years.

    Agenda – Influence your people to believe that what they are thinking, doing, or not doing, is a sin against God. Foster a feeling of guilt. Help maintain these guilt feelings as a tool for motivating them in [insert desired direction here].

    That was my experience for 25 years.

  • http://www.newlifesd.blogspot.com k8

    Fred – would you love your child even if they were never ABLE to learn to walk?

    God loves us without expectations. I believe that with my whole heart.

  • Darrin

    Bob,
    Thanks for sharing that. I don’t know because I am not there myself (crossing the divide from Christian to atheist) but I have read so many who have crossed like you who say how much relief and freedom they felt. I find this very interesting because we have always preached that relief and freedom comes when you give your life TO Jesus, not take it back away. And I don’t ever recall organizing a testimony night in any church I served for ex-Christians to share their testimony of becoming atheists. Rather, I seem to have a belief and caricature of atheism as a place of cold death, boundless immorality, murder and self-absorption..

    I wonder who has fostered THAT caricature…

  • fishon

    preacherlady
    September 21, 2010 | 1:37 am
    The best example I can think of is almost every time I’ve taught on forgiveness and what unforgiveness does to us, there’s always someone who says “I don’t care what you say…I’m NEVER going to forgive him for what he did to me.” Suit yourself…your the one who has to pay the consequences.
    ———-I have very seldom got that one, but know it is used often In fact, I am teaching about forgiveness in SS right now. This is the one I hear the most–”I don’t think I can forgive. I want to, but don’t know how.”

    I can assure you I am not that guy who will say, “Suit yourself…your the one who has to pay the consequences.” We will try and work though it as a process. And a long process it can be–depending on the act perpetrated against them.

    Gee, are we agreement?

  • fishon

    k8
    September 21, 2010 | 12:07 pm

    Fred – would you love your child even if they were never ABLE to learn to walk?

    God loves us without expectations. I believe that with my whole heart.
    ——Are you talking about the God of the Old and New Testament—-or just the New?

  • fishon

    Bob,
    One of fishons passages above was also another source of constant guilt – “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.” Did I “love” Jesus? I thought I did. I wanted to. But if I disobeyed even one of Jesus’s commands, it was obvious that I didn’t love him.
    ——Bob, I am not going to get into a debate with you, but didn’t you read about ‘forgiveness and repentance’ of that disobedience?

  • bob

    Darrin – “Rather, I seem to have a belief and caricature of atheism as a place of cold death, boundless immorality, murder and self-absorption..
    I wonder who has fostered THAT caricature…”

    Is that rhetorical Darrin? :)

    Never in my 25 years of faith did I knowingly meet an atheist. I am sure I probably met them, but unless they open their mouth and confess, for the most part, you can’t tell them from Christians.

    fishon – “Bob, I am not going to get into a debate with you, but didn’t you read about ‘forgiveness and repentance’ of that disobedience?”

    What do you think fishon? Do you think that some how, in all those years, I must have missed the repentance and forgiveness parts?

    Example – I struggled with sexual lust for the female form. I felt extreme guilt constantly. I prayed that God would give me relief. I tried to look away when I spied a woman that attracted me…which was pretty much all of them. I prayed more. I had men in the church (all of whom confessed to having the same freaking “sin” in their lives) pray for me. NOTHING!
    This went on for all of my adolescent and adult life.

    Only now, in my early 50′s, have I started to experience a measure of relief. Only now that I know that it is not a sin, but is a perfectly natural physiological aspect of male human nature. Only now that my testosterone levels are dropping do I find that I am not mesmerized with so many of the fine ladies. I can actually carry on a conversation with one and not be somewhere else in my mind.

    But – if I do happen to be distracted by her lovely form, I do not feel the slightest bit of guilt…because I now know that what I am thinking is not “sinful” or wrong in any way.

    So, I do not have to repent over and over and over and ask forgiveness over and over and over…

    So tell us fishon, what sin besets you? What is your “thorn in the flesh” that you just can’t seem to get victory over no matter how much you pray?

  • fishon

    bob
    September 21, 2010 | 2:55 pm

    So tell us fishon, what sin besets you? What is your “thorn in the flesh” that you just can’t seem to get victory over no matter how much you pray?
    ——Well, like you age [63] has tempered my lust. But I never felt quilty about it. I knew it to be normal. I just decided a long time ago not to let it dominate me and act upon it.

    Aha, but my thorn. My inability to pray. As a pastor, you would think it would come easy. It does not for me. It has aways been a struggle. I have read a jillion books on prayer, and several had said that if a pastor doesn’t have a great, private, prayer life he should not be a preacher. It is haunting to me. I am consumed with my quilt ever day.

  • http://thepreacherlady.wordpress.com preacherlady

    Jerry…don’t you think that your inability to pray is only that you aren’t doing what people expect you to do. Jesus said to seek the Kingdom of God. He said we shouldn’t pray for stuff.
    You often speak of being out in nature and marvelling in its beauty. Don’t you realize that that is prayer? To contemplate the beauty of creation is something that brings about connection. The OT says “Be still and Know that I AM”…thats the highest form of prayer. I think you do this often. Let yourself off the hook and go sit in your favorite outdoor place and be still…and know that HE IS.

  • http://freedompastor.blogspot.com Frank Emanuel

    I would make a few distinctions. One is expectation as opposed to agenda. I can have a hopefull expectation that God will transformatively reveal God’s self in community. I can expect that if I’m part of a community and I am not growing and being challenged that I’ve probably fallen into stagnation and am not in a healthy relationship with that community. But agenda has the added edge of a content in the expectation. That is where I think I agree with you.

    I personally believe that a church should never impose a structure of change on another. I do feel strongly though that the church is a place where we can be challenged and change. And while the impetus for change rests with the individual (I can choose not to change) it is being in relationship with others who are relating to God and community in transformative ways that gives me courage to change myself.

    I also believe that homogeneity is not a Godly agenda for change. One of the things we try to do as a church community is not have expectations on the content of that change. We don’t expect everyone to look, think, talk, or act the same. We don’t expect that we will all take the same position on issues. But what we do expect is that we can engage those issues as a community enriched by diverse and respectful voices. It also comes out of a conviction that we are not God – and what God wants to work on in each of our lives at any given moment is not what we might think needs working on. I think I got that idea from John White, years and years ago, but it has served me well.

    So I’m with you on demanding change. But I do want to redeem a careful use of the word expectation here. I think that is a defining characteristic of functional religious community. It is why religion has tremendous potential for good in the world.

  • bob

    Frank Emanuel –

    “…the church is a place where we can be challenged and change.”

    “…God and community in transformative ways that gives me courage to change myself.”

    “So I’m with you on demanding change.”

    It seems as if Christians expect that there is always a necessity for each Christian to change something about them selves. It’s as if there is never a time when the Christian can just relax and enjoy life, without the nagging voice telling them that they are falling short in some area of their religious existence.

    What if there is a Christian who doesn’t feel that he or she needs to pray more, study the bible more, tithe more, eat less, exercise more, sleep less, evangelize more…?

    Do they need to “change”?

  • http://dmergent.org/ Doug Sloan

    Growth is change. Growth is a positive renewal or a worthwhile accumulation or both. If it is not growing, it is dying.

    A significant portion of the Good News message is that personal transformation is possible. Off the top of my head, it is my understanding that within the field of psychology, this is an accepted phenomenon. Part of the purpose of the Good News message is to provide the freedom to put behind me and away from me, my old self – to have my old self die and in its place, a new and transformed self is resurrected.

    Sin is more about distance from God and harmful relationships than it is about disobedience, imperfections, and short-comings.

  • http://freedompastor.blogspot.com Frank Emanuel

    I’m sorry if it feels exhausting, but I wonder if you are reading something into my comments that I don’t intend. I am not just advocating we continually live in flux, never completely happy with where we are at spiritually. In fact a big part of what our community values is accepting folks where they are at regardless if they continue to grow/mature. However, that doesn’t mean we give up on the hope of growing/changing/maturation for each other – but this is a tension we hold onto as a community. If it is exhausting then perhaps you are imagining a different kind of change than I am. I am longing for growth that improves the quality of our lives and the lives of those around us and under our influence (local and beyond).

    But I’m also not thinking of something that doesn’t require work. But it isn’t the kind of work that a pseudo-pelagian spirituality will address. So it isn’t praying more, reading more, tithing more – at least not generally. It is knowing yourself more. Critically reflecting on your assumptions and actions. Deciding to love more than hate. Choosing to put into practice the things you have learned instead of sitting week in, week out absorbing sermons that make no difference in your life. That sort of thing.


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