#6: A Culture of Cowardice (part two)

Last time, I introduced what I believe to be a pervasive cultural condition in so many churches that it has become characteristic of the Church in America.  I call it A Culture of Cowardice.  While there are many wonderful exceptions, compared to the whole, these exceptions are so exceptional that the moniker deserves our attention—particularly when our topic is leadership courage.

Edwin Friedman, in A Failure of Nerve diagnoses American society as chronically anxious.  As he describes the features of systems under the condition of chronic anxiety—the Church in North America even more than American society seems to fit the description.

One feature of such systems is that they are toxic to courageous, well-differentiated leadership.  So acute is the culture’s abhorrence of discomfort that it “knee-jerks” its way from one perceived threat to another, clamoring for almost instantaneous relief from her ministers, who are pulled in all directions at once.  While a pastor may have begun with a clear sense of mission, in short order the mission is overwhelmed by the demand that the “crisis du jour” be averted with all haste.  Ministers then, instead of challenging the congregation to mature and leading them to take important new ground, become consumed with smoothing out the never-ending ruffled feathers of the flock.

Caretaking is not leadership. A constituency that is so developmentally-regressed requires that a clergyperson do little more than immerse one’s finger in the mouth, stick it up in the wind, and move in the path of least resistance which, according to Friedman, will be to accommodate the low frustration tolerance of the most immature.  And, to do this, all they need to do is answer the phone!

Ministry, for many, resembles the role of a caregiver in an overcrowded orphanage, wearily scurrying to soothe the baby screaming most loudly before she can comfort the next infant to let loose.  The priorities of one’s ministry are based more on responding to the immediate needs of church members than in steadfast obedience to the Audience of One.

A leader who remains resolute in pursuit of a cause greater than the good feelings of the congregation (for example, the maturation of the disciples and the mobilization of the membership for ministry to those outside the church) is seen as heartless, unresponsive, deaf to the cries of the downtrodden, and out-of-touch with “real people” within.  Emotionally and spiritually emaciated church members have no stomach for a real leader…like Christ.

So, what if Jesus were a member of the typical American church today

To a member of a beleaguered minority he declared: “You have no idea what you’re worshipping!” [Jn 4:22]  Embarrassed by Jesus’ insensitivity, the Church might howl: “How cruel, abusive, and bigoted!  Our all-loving heavenly Father is nothing like that!”

In the aftermath of freeing the Gadarene [Mt 8:32], imagine the uproar from the typical church today at the brutality shown the pigs.  P.E.T.A. members throughout the Church would be calling to have Jesus locked up.  “Better that one mentally-disabled person remains as he is than that innocent wildlife be so maliciously mistreated!”

To a fellow Jesus invites to follow him, he says: “Let the dead bury their dead” when they guy asks to first attend the funeral of his father. [Lk 9:60]  To this, the church would smugly declare: “How unfeeling, cold, and heartless!  A merciful God would never say that!

When Jesus comes upon the merchants in the temple, he goes nuts: vandalizing their property, abusing the animals (again!), and misappropriating their funds. [Jn 2:15]  Surely, the church would get a restraining order against Jesus—after his 5150 had expired. “God is a God of order—not chaos”, they might say.

Jesus is revealed in scripture as clear, decisive, and disruptive.  You might think Him a study in contrasts: compassionate to the adulteress and hair-triggered to undermine the misguided religious leaders of his day.  He would be branded a troublemaker in most US churches today.  Jesus was resolute in His commitment to model, bring, and defend the Kingdom of His Father.

Are you?