If you haven’t figured it out yet, there are many ways to offend someone. We step on toes and rock boats, and most of us want to avoid that. We often wrack our brains to try to find the best, and least hurtful or tone deaf way to express something to someone.
So we usually fall back on what’s socially or politically correct, even though it can seem a bit robotic.
But social or political correctness is stressful. What if I’m missing something? What if I unwittingly hurt someone with something I say? Usually out of fear, I keep quiet. Awkwardness and tension and conflict are some of my fears.
I realized lately that I can do the exact same thing with church. Having grown up in a church setting, I know how things “should” be. I know the expectations and the “correct” answers. At least, I assume I do.
Looking back at this, it can fall under the category of legalism – doing the right thing like a checklist, without heart behind it. Sometimes it is that way for me. Other times it’s more like the fears and cares of my heart keep me from really opening up, which takes me back to auto-pilot, because it’s safe. It might be naive to say, but it feels differently to me. Maybe it needs more digging.
Is it just me? Or does anyone else…
Say yes to a task when you’re feeling like you’re already in a million directions, because you feel that it’s the right thing to do?
Always respond with, “Good!” and a smile when someone asks how you’re doing, because you have Jesus, and you should be doing good, right?
Agree with a plan or idea because everyone else does, but secretly feel like you disagree?
Confess sin on auto-pilot, sharing the things you think are okay to share, while holding back the deeper things you worry no one will relate with?
Say you’re okay with something, but really feel torn and kind of bitter over it?
That’s the trend for how I deal with things at church, up until recently. The fears behind it all are rocking the boat, causing dissent or divide, being called out or challenged on the heart, and not doing things the textbook Biblical way, ultimately failing God and the church family.
But the unfortunate results of my “church correctness” include: bitterness over unresolved situations. A break in relationships, with others or with God. An inauthenticity in worship and service. Overwhelm. Paranoia over questions or concern from others. Lacking vulnerability and connection.
Fortunately for us…
That’s not at all God’s intention for our walk with him. It’s not about a textbook, and it’s not about us being robots.
In the Bible, so often, God’s people miss the mark on what God really wants, and turn to legalism (or just give up completely). And over and over again, God calls us back to what he’s really looking at: our hearts.
Psalm 51:16-17 (MSG) says, “Going through the motions doesn’t please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you. I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.”
Isaiah 66:1-2 (MSG) says, “God’s Message: ‘Heaven’s my throne, earth is my footstool. What sort of house could you build for me? What holiday spot reserve for me? I made all this! I own this!’ God’s Decree. ‘But there is something I’m looking for: a person, simple and plain, reverently responsive to what I say.'”
Mark 12:33 (NIV) says (from the teacher of the law to Jesus, after Jesus tells him the two greatest commandments), “To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Jesus goes on to tell him he is not far from the Kingdom of God.)
Luke 18:11-14 talks about the Pharisee, who prays loudly and tells of all the good things he’s doing for God, and the tax collector, who can’t even look at God because of his sins. Jesus says the second man goes home justified before God.
We’re given the key in these scriptures: that God doesn’t want perfection or rituals from us. He would rather have our hearts – broken and sinful and humble as they may be.
So what can we do instead?
Something I always love about Jesus is that he meets people as they are – with the Pharisees, he is direct and challenges their authority. With people in lowly circumstances, with real hurts and real problems, he treats them gently and with compassion. He shows God’s character, which is that God wants us before him as we are.
Romans 12:1-2 (NIV) says, “Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing, and perfect will.”
So much in this verse sets us up for success with God. Often I read the part about a living sacrifice, and still think about a dead one – pouring myself out to nothing for God, doing all the things, saying all the yeses even if I want to say no.
But that isn’t what God’s saying. He’s not saying, try harder. He’s saying continue to grow and change and be renewed by him. And then when it comes time to make a decision about how we will live before God and others, we can test what’s best and know God’s will for it.
What does that mean practically?
For me, it means being honest with God and others about what I’m really thinking and feeling. Sometimes what I’m feeling is dead-on, and needs to be addressed. Other times, often times, my heart needs to catch up with what is actually going on. But God can grow me so gently and patiently through my vulnerability and brokenness than when I’m stubborn and inauthentic. That’s when he brings things to my attention more abruptly.
Keep in mind
There’s a time and a place. Just because I am feeling something in the middle of a church service doesn’t mean I need to stand up and shout it out for the world to hear. Responding out of emotion usually isn’t the most beneficial way to handle a situation.
Everything with humility. I can swing in the other direction and feel like my needs and emotions are more important than anything. But often I miss the bigger picture or another viewpoint. Basically, I can choose to be humble, or be humbled.
People don’t always get it right. In a perfect world, authority would never be abused, people would do things out of intention and not routine, and we wouldn’t fall back into legalism. But we’re in a fallen world. And even in a church setting, sometimes the wrong things are emphasized or peer pressure happens. We can get down about it, we can be bitter – or we can bring it all into the light and talk about it. I think our church communities do so much better dealing with the mess, rather than try to act like we have it all together.
It’s almost always okay to…
…ask for time to think. You don’t have to give an answer or an opinion right away, especially if you’re not sure how you feel or what is best. Ask for time to consider where your heart is at, and get back when you’re in a better position to respond.
…go back and change your answer. Sometimes after thinking about it, you’re not really okay or good. A good friend has taught me that it’s alright. We don’t always know in the moment how we feel.
Where am I at?
I’m still learning this. I’ve spent so long giving the right answer because I thought that’s what I should be doing. I still can fear peoples’ response if I say what I’m really thinking.
But I’m trying. I’m trying to be real about how I’m feeling, to have the hard talks. (Hard for me, anyway, because it involves me being vulnerable.) It’s challenging, but also incredibly freeing.
Now, social and political correctness, on the other hand. When someone figures all that out, will you let me know, please?
Does anyone relate to this, or am I totally on my own? What helps you, if you struggle with it?
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
The Message (MSG)
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