Warning: this one may be a bit ‘ranty’ (my new word:)
Part of the reason for this blog is to do a debrief for myself about the years I have spent working in churches. If you are the kind of person who will get easily offended by some looking at the ugly side of what I, and others did, then please don’t read any further.
My first degree was a Bachelor of Social Sciences majoring in Psychology and Sociology. By and large I enjoyed the subject matter, but at some stage I became very disillusioned by what, I felt, Psychologists did.
Let me explain.
I don’t think Psychologists really want anyone to get better. The moment you get better, you won’t come back anymore and pay them the R1000 an hour you’re forking out. It may sound like a cynical view but I think there is a lot of truth to it. I have seen too many people I know only get worse and worse the more time they spend with mental health professionals. When you speak to them they come over all helpless and weak, as if they have no agency over their own lives. It drives me nuts. I would have been a terrible (or brilliant, depends how you see it) Psychologist, because I would have listened to a lot of people and given them a very short and stern speech about ‘getting over themselves’. Then I would send them on their way. I think people quickly become obsessed with their own pain, and many mental health professionals only serve to keep them sick.
I remember hearing a study done in the US where people who were considered mentally unwell were followed for a year and their progress measured. Of those who went to visit a Psychoanalyst, 44% were well within a year. Of those who saw a Psychotherapist, 53% were well within the year. Of those who went to a Psychiatrist, 61% were well within a year. But the kicker is that of those who saw NO ONE AT ALL, 73% were completely well within a year. Is it just my cynicism or may there be something to this? (This is the Hans Eysenck study if you want to look it up).
I finished up my Degree but never took it any further. In fact I left pretty jaded about the whole discipline. Can you tell?
So I moved on to do a degree in Theology thinking it would be a ‘pure’ discipline, one filled with all the right motives. Its not only the reason I studied it, I believed I had a call to do the work (I believe I still do), but I was looking forward to a world where people mattered, and ego and money meant nothing.
Unfortunately I don’t think that is true anymore.
I think churches often commit, wittingly or unwittingly, the same crime as most Psychologists: they keep people dependent on them and obsessed with their own pain.
I sat with someone the other day who, spirituality said he was dying because he hadn’t been to church for a few weeks. He felt empty and like he needed to get to church right away. While you may applaud this I felt like I was speaking to someone who was confusing church for spirituality. They are not the same thing. If you didn’t have a church to attend (and any number of life situations could make this possible) would your spirituality collapse? For some I believe it would, and it would be the fault of people like me.
We (us Pastor-types) were trained with all the theological answers and when we speak we make you think that you could never connect with God like we do, or read the scriptures like we can, and its rubbish! We hint that to spend time away from church is to spend time away from God, often because we just don’t want you to leave, and we know you might. In a hundred ways a week we will remind you how much you need to be here, at this church, and no other. We keep you believing that you have to keep coming back to us to be healthy spiritually, because without us you can’t do it.
Church shouldn’t be your spirituality, it should be something your spirituality drives you to be a part of.
There’s a big difference!
If you’re not healthy without it, you’re probably in it for the wrong reasons. Its not a crutch, it should be an expression of a spirituality that is blossoming every other second of the week. No wonder we have so many sick and anemic (thanks Rob:) churches!
I agree that we should be part of a community (in fact I’m getting hungry for one already).
I agree that we should be with people who are on the same road as us, but not so that we have a safe group of friends, but so that we can kick each other’s butts towards actually being what God meant us to be; people who get involved with Him in making the world right again; in spiritual ways sure, but also in the most practical, “hands-dirty” kind of ways too.
Which brings me on this:
We obsess about our own pain in church too… ‘how wounded we are’… ‘how much we need healing’. But does it ever get done to the point where we move out and get on with living life and changing the world, or are we always navel gazing and feeling sorry for ourselves? Paul (Apostle) had to deal with some serious inner demons but we don’t read about it, because the guy was too busy running around changing things; trying to connect people with God. Did he deal with stuff? Absolutely, I have no doubt, but thats not the part of the story we tell. I wonder if some of us have any other part to tell sometimes, outside of us being wounded and hiding out in churches. Come on! There’s more to it than that! We’re meant to be so much more.
Its why most of our churches are so inward looking; because we’re trying to create such a bubble for ourselves to keep us protected from the rest of the world and its ‘nastiness’ that we’re missing out on our main purpose which I believe is to get out there in the thick of it and change it for the better. Is it a coincidence that most of your churches have 80% of their budget pointed back right back at themselves? And that’s 80% if you’re lucky!
I get mad not because I dislike church, I just dislike what we make it. We ruin it by making it about ourselves and our pain. Pastors have to stop ‘babying’ people and rather push people to own their spirituality. I think Paul called it eating meat instead of drinking milk. You’ll get resistance though, trust me. It will make your colleagues nervous.
To everyone else: get on with it and get off our asses! Own your spirituality everyday. Deal with your issues, with God, aggressively. If you need help, ask for it, but with the view to taking some ownership of your own story, and getting on board with what God is trying to do, because He desperately needs some who aren’t too busy staring into their own navels.