Sunday, November 21, 2010

Those Pesky Individualists

I got hit right between the eyes this week.

“Individualists who are bold enough to make their own approach to life and faith known upset the church’s status quo,” writes Michael Spencer in Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality. “People who have a distinct identity break the unspoken, agreed-upon group rules. The individualists ask the wrong questions. They don’t buy into the accepted assumptions. In short, they don’t do what they are supposed to do.”

Oh, my goodness. I didn’t know my problem was being “an individualist,” but there’s much in that paragraph that describes my own church experiences for almost 25 years.

I was once on a church officer nominating committee. It wasn’t something that I’d sought out but I was nominated and elected so I determined to do the task. Two or three meetings passed before I realized that I was expected to nominate compliant people for the offices of deacon and elder, people who would not rock the boat, not ask obvious questions, and be willing to be led by the pastor and two or three key elders.

At one meeting I suggested an individual who loved the church like his own family, and was more qualified than just about anyone else, including the current officers. There was a silence from the other members. Finally, one of them, a sitting elder, said, “If he’s nominated, I will quit the board.” The silence became profound. Then another member of the committee quite innocently asked, “You mean he’s not a team player,” and heads vigorously nodded, grateful for an acceptable reason to hide personal animosity.

For all subsequent meetings, the head pastor attended. I had become a problem. Prompted by nothing except this man’s reputation in the church, I had suggested a name that had shocked the committee. From then on, the pastor suggested or commented upon all of the names proposed.

I didn’t personally suffer as a result. But a few years later, the church paid an enormous price for the value placed on compliant, unquestioning officers. These were good people, believers and servants all. They truly believed in what they were doing. They were not trying to be ugly and would have bristled if anyone had said they valued compliance above everything else. And they eventually understood – and accepted – that they were responsible for what had happened. They did learn.

There were other places, other contexts that taught me I was not doing things in the expected way. I questioned the wisdom of an ill-considered building program. I asked (politely) about the influence of certain mega-churches. I suggested to a church committee that if the Elder Board wanted the congregation to change, and to do something differently, then the elders themselves had to be the change and lead it by example. I asked why was there such a deliberate attempt to become a “seeker church.”

I also told my wife she had permission to shoot me if I was ever asked to be on an Elder Board and I wanted to consider it seriously. I’ve been on a deacon board for the last three years, and I’ve truly enjoyed working with the people who’ve served with me. We focus on keeping stuff running – that the grounds are maintained, and funds distributed to needy people, and the chairs and tables are set up for special events, and ushering during the worship services (of everything I did as a deacon, I think ushering was the thing I enjoyed the most). I’m rotating off the board at the end of this year, and it’s a good time for me to do that.

On Thursday over at The High Calling, Gordon Atkinson posted an article entitled “Prayer in a Season of Wandering” that managed to capture my thoughts almost exactly. It’s worth reading, and worth reading several times.

Nancy Rosback over at Nancy Marie has been leading us in a discussion of Mere Churchianity. Also see Fatha Frank’s posts at Public Christianity and Melo’s posts at Humming Softly.


S. Etole said...

There's solace in being in good company. Thank you, Glynn.

SimplyDarlene said...

Oh, so that's my problem or maybe the diagnosis of my disorder? Either way, if Jesus is the head individualist, I reckon we are in fine company.


Anonymous said...

i don't know how they put up with such a rabble-rouser. it's a wonder you haven't been booted out.

off to see gordon's link now...

Anonymous said...

gordon's post is well worth reading.
thanks for the link.

Laura said...

Hmmm. Sounds like the same kind of trouble we've been having. Like you, I didn't know it should be called individualism. But...Oh, phooey, I'm just not going to go there.

Yes, Gordon's post is worth reading over and over again.