Have you ever had the experience of questioning a teaching from your church?
Have you ever thought, ‘man, I just don’t know about that’?
Why is it when you ask questions in church, a lot of times you are met with vitriol and flat out aggressiveness? Why is the church so rigid that the very notion of asking a question seems to throw them into a panic?
Our church is currently going through a series about what happens to you One Minute After You Die. First of all, the very title of the series causes me to pause, because I don’t know anyone who has died and then come back to life. So, I don’t know anyone who can definitely say what happens One Minute After You Die. But word play aside, I approached this series with a skeptical but open heart. My plan was that I would try to do as much upfront research as I possibly could so I am able to receive the message without reacting. This was a lesson learned from previous experiences where I would just react to something that caused more harm than good. The goal turned to trying to respond to things instead of reacting. As with most things, I have various levels of success doing this.
Yesterday, the message was The Horror of Hell. The title alone makes me queasy to look at because it brings up images that cause me to pause. I was certainly nervous to hear what the pastor had to say, because recently on my spiritual journey my thoughts on this subject have changed. I knew I would most likely have a different view from the pastor on this subject, so I wanted to take a look at the bulletin to make sure I was prepared for what was going to be said. I thought if I looked at the context of the verses being used and got out ahead of the talking points, I wouldn’t feel the urge to just walk out in the middle of the service, or make my lovely wife hear me react to what was being said.
You are welcome to disagree with me, but I thought I was trying to stay as humble as I possibly could by staying quiet and quietly doing the research on my own so that I didn’t cause any type of scene.
As I was walking through the lobby, a staff member of the church that I have known for quite a long time stopped me, and asked me how and what I was doing. I told him I was doing fine, but I was trying to prepare for the message because I was not sure that I agreed with the premise of the message. To which his initial answer was that of understanding that not everyone will agree on everything. And then he said this:
“Just make sure you aren’t being an ass.”
This immediately made me ask questions internally. Was he saying I was being an ass? Did somehow I come across as an ass? How is trying to prepare for a message the actions of an ass?
I have a pretty challenging profession at times. I am a project manager for a manufacturing company, so at times I have been called a few choice things and have been told off more times than I can count. Some of those times were probably deserved, but most weren’t. Being that I have been doing this job for many years now, it isn’t hard for me to shake off things that are said to me. I understand that 95% of the time, the comment is not actually meant to be directed at me, but more out of frustration of the overall project.
But this was different. This was a trusted and cared for member of the staff at my church campus possibly telling me I was being an ass. Why did this bother me so much? Was I being a snowflake (or soft, or a pansy) as a lot of church folk like to say these days of the younger members? No, that wasn’t it. It was different because I was genuinely trying to humbly ask questions. I wasn’t telling a lot of people my objections, I was quietly researching for myself. I was trying to apply the lessons learned from approaching these types of situations incorrectly in the past. I was trying to find Jesus in the message.
I have hope that over time, situations like this will not happen. I have hope that someday churches will allow their members to question the teaching in the spirit of growth. I have hope that we will soon live in a day when you aren’t considered a threat to the message if you have the audacity to say “I don’t know about that”.”
And finally, I have hope that one day we will live in a culture of conversation and not accusation,. a culture where The we will be able to discuss things without the fear of condemnation, and that we can all grow in our understanding of Christ together.