A few years ago in speaking to a group of Pentecostal preachers, at one point, I said, “Stop being codependent! Don’t ask how you can help your congregants be more comfortable. Ask, what are your people doing for the church and for others?” And then I said, “If they aren’t doing anything for the body of Christ tell them to leave!”
Admittedly, every once in a while, I get a little riled up in my talks and teaching, and I think I sometimes go a little overboard, but perhaps that is when I get to the heart of the issue. Instead of goading, or pleading or seducing folks into religious organizations, why not instead tell them the truth: “If you aren’t loving others, forgiving others, and working for justice in the world, what good are you doing?”
Oh yes, the church is a hospital and for many of us, it is a place for consolation but if that is all it is, then is it really the place where Christ dwells?
This all came back to me the other day, I sometimes go to Richard Dalhstrom’s church, or at least the church where he preaches, Bethany Community Church. Right now I’m not preaching or ministering at a specific church, except to my students. I’m newly married and taking time off, as they say; I rather like it, btw. Both the marriage and the break from preaching!
Recently, at one point in the sermon, Richard spoke the truth in a rather starting way, “My goal is not to make or keep a successful evangelical organization going; I’d much rather be skiing. What I do want is that people will be transformed by Christ.” And I thought – now there it is. There is no codependence in that statement, no mealy-mouthing, “Oh, only in this church will you find the good news; only here will you be served; only here will you hear good music, or good preaching.” No, just the unvarnished truth, be transformed by Christ, and if that is not what we’re doing, let’s all go do something else that’s more fun, like skiing.
I’ve often thought that Christ really didn’t do much by way of begging people to follow him or even much in terms of nurturing his disciples. He said, “Come on, follow me, and I will teach you to preach the good news and do justice unto others.” If somebody didn’t want to follow, he’d say, well, really nothing. He didn’t beg them, or promise that the journey would be easy. He didn’t make promises that things were going to get really good. He didn’t say that you would be blessed materially. No, he said, “Come, take up your cross, and follow me.” Or, “She who loses her life will find her life.”
You know, this kind of blunt realism – that the way of discipleship is hard work – is a relief, really. People know that life isn’t easy, that there is no free lunch. Finally. People aren’t stupid. When leaders tell the truth they are respected. It is a relief. I felt relieved when Richard said, “I’d rather go skiing.” And that is my truth right now, if I’m not doing something that is exactly what I feel called to do, I’d rather go spend time with my new wife, or read a book, or go hiking, or work in my garden, or run, or travel and love people all along the way
Let’s not be codependent in our churches – it leads to groups that over-promise and to people who under deliver, who all the while say, they are never getting enough. I say enough is enough. Speak the truth, it pays off in the end, and in that truth there is deep freedom for all.