Monday, July 26, 2010

Like Going to the Dentist

I will admit it up front that I am a scaredy cat.  I do not like going to see the dentist or his evil cohort the dental hygienist.  Nothing personal. It is just that I would prefer having my toenail ripped off with a pliers.  I still go (largely through the intimidation, guilt, and embarrassment offered me by my loving family).  But if I had my druthers, I'd skip these visits with the good Dr. and his crew.  Some of you might resonate with this (or some other distasteful task).

Why is it that for Christians sharing the faith, witnesses to Jesus, talking about what they believe, serving the Lord in His Church, and talking about or actually doing tithes and offerings is much the same as my perspective on visiting the dentist?  Why is it that we must be intimidated into, guilted into, shamed into, embarrassed into sharing our faith or witnessing to Jesus or talking about what we believe with those who do not believe?  Why is it that somebody must corral us into serving the Lord in some way through the local congregation (from teaching Sunday school to being a youth counselor to visiting the sick to weeding the flower beds at the church)?  Why is it that we must treat stewardship the way the dentist does when he slips that syringe up beside your head and before you even see it shoves into the gum to deaden the nerve on that tooth he is going to drill away to oblivion... (well, I did not mean to get so graphic or carried away... but anyway)?

Is the only way we step up to the plate to share the hope that is within us if we are guilted by the prospect of thousands heading on a one-way trip to hell every moment unless WE do something?  Is the only way we support missions (as generously as we provide money to pay for the air conditioning in the heat of summer) if someone puts the gun of intimidation and shame to our heads?  Is the only way we will serve the Lord through the Church is if we are made to feel the situation is desperate and we have to step in (at least over the short term)?  Is the only way we give to the Lord the tithes and offerings He is due is if we have so much money we don't know what to do with it all or we figure it is our fair share to pay for this or that or we will make sure that the things we want or need from the Church are funded?

In Synod as a whole, in the regional location of District, and on the local playing field of the congregation, we tend to motivate people by guilt and intimidation -- shaming them into doing the right thing.  Sure it works... but it works over the short term and not the long haul.  Even the prospect of people riding the freight train to eternal torment can cause us to glaze over if we have heard it often enough.  What I would like to see is the Church (on all levels) teaching us to joy in doing what is good, right, wholesome, godly, and faithful BECAUSE it is good, right, wholesome, godly, and faithful.  What I would like to see is risking all to lay out before the people of God the joyous possibility of sharing the hope within us in Christ or serving the Lord with our time and talents or giving to the Lord because of His generosity toward us... and keep on doing it until it becomes the primary motivator and the ordinary way we talk in the Church...

It should not be that we have to coax people into worship the way the dentist points to the consequences of not seeing him (those dreaded gingivitis or pyorrhea posters).  It should not be that the way we coax people into mission support is a vision of hell instead of the picture of blessing and grace right there before us in the Word and Table of the Lord.  It should not be that we force people to take jobs they do not want because they feel they must instead of finding places for people to serve who feel their service IS the privilege of belonging to Christ and His Church.  It should not be that we encourage offerings by scarring people into the prospect of no youth leader for their kids or no toilet paper in the bathroom or no Pastor to bury their loved ones...

No, I do not like going to the dentist.  It is not his fault or the fault of those who work with him.  It is my fault.  And so it is for the Church.  We create our own flawed outcome by insinuating to folks that no right minded Christian would share his faith or worship faithfully or serve the Lord in His Church or give a dime or a dollar to the plate UNLESS it were a distasteful thing that guilt makes you do...

3 comments:

Amy Welch said...

I agree with this article which has many great insights, but I propose a question. At our church we struggle with much apathy among the congregation, "I believe Jesus died for me, so I am going to heaven. I don't need to do anything at church." We do use a "Gospel-centered" approach, but at what point does the Gospel lose its sweetness if the people do not first feel the sting of the Law? Do you continue with just the Gospel? I think the struggle is in finding the right balance of Law and Gospel - the pain and the sweetness. Amy W.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Peters,

Please don't give up on the weeding! As soon as it cools enough that we don't melt, we'll be there! Promise!

Which brings up another question: Why do 10% of the members do 90% of the work? No answers, just another question.

Shelia Newman said...

This whole idea of the 'scary dentist' is indeed very powerful and persistent. Maybe it has something to do with the uniforms and the freaky looking set of utensils, and their appropriation in movies and media. Yet we shouldn't be hamstrung by it. Firstly, because we shouldn't allow ourselves to be passively motivated by images, and second, because we should keep a cool head and look at all these things as necessities. Every necessity brings along an amount of frustration and pain. Indeed, that is just something we will have to face with. It's all a part of living life.

Maple Park Dental