If others aren’t committed, why should I be?

I have a gripe today. I think I’ll call it co-dependant commitment. It’s where people bail on their commitments because others do. You know, lowest common denominator commitment. Where a group is only as committed as its least committed person.

I think it stems from a subtle form of idolatry. From committing to the church rather than Christ. I hear it frequently. “I’d like to keep going, but I’m just not being fed.” But I ask, who is the bread of life? Is it the church, or Christ? Churchianity begins with confusing this.

Newsflash. Maybe that group you’re complaining about, as not feeding you, is full of people just like you. Whose capacity to feed others is, likewise, finite. If you approach discipleship co-dependantly it’s a recipe for dashed expectations. If you want feeding, real feeding, look to a less finite source. Mature disciples don’t make their commitments dependant on those around them, they take a commitment as a calling.

11 thoughts on “If others aren’t committed, why should I be?

  1. Have you seen iMonk’s book, Mere Churchianity?
    You have it spot on: we have committed ourselves to the church instead of to Christ. Michael Spencer calls for a Christ-shaped spirituality rather than a church-shaped one.
    I have recently begun an ecclectic (abi-normal? ;^) ) form on devotion/mediation that is a mix of the daily office (using Northumbria’s book and their music so that I can sing the daily office) and the Mosaic bible for the scripture selection and meditations (have you heard of it?) along with listening to The Message (mp3-based) for the four scripture readings as well as the Sermon on the Mount.
    I have been trying, for almost 3 years now, to find a way to get this to “feel right” for me, and I’m thrilled to finally have something.
    I read Scot McKnight’s “Praying with the Church” a while back and resonated quite strongly with the need to recognize the entire breadth of the church — both in time and in location — so that those who have gone before and those whose culture is different can still encourage me … and that those who are right now using these same ancient methods of worship and meditation are being invited into the presence of the Church — the dance of the Eternal Community is first personal (what I have come to call Primary Community, with me and the Three) and then grows to include the Whole Community.
    It has been a long journey of deconstruction, these past five years … it is refreshing to finally begin reconstruction — or as I heard it recently, restoration.

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  2. …and I do try to mix up the translations I use to read scriptures: NLT (which I also have on CD), NEB, NIV, CEV … along with The Message.
    I finally got a memory card for my cell phone … and it is full of the Bible and the daily office. I am very grateful!
    We have not yet joined a local fellowship of disciples, so this is a good first step to feeling a part of some kind of rhythm.

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  3. Peggy
    No, I haven’t read any of the books you just mentioned. It would seem we’re on the same wavelength though. I find the problem is most acute amongst the more educated Christians. Particularly the theologically educated, particularly those who’ve left leadership, and I’ve come across it time and time again. They’re reticent to commit to churches that don’t stretch them, stimulate them, etc, etc. But more often than not the leaders are no more educated than them. Sometimes less. So it’s unrealistic to expect “wow” moments in sermons each week or in conversations with ordinary Christians. Gone are the days when there was a significant educational gap between the leader and the led. They’re expecting things of the church that should only be expected of God.

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  4. I should add, I say this having experienced similar struggles myself. I’m not theologically educated, at least not in the conventional sense, but I may as well have been. I feel the same tugs and frustrations. But I’ve come to see how deceptive they are.

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  5. Jesus’ prayer that we might be one, even as Jesus was one with the Father was no vain prayer, but recognition of an impolite reality proven time and time again, over and over in Church history.
    If we’re seeking in Church some idealized nirvana-like Shangri sort of heaven on earth existence, where everyone is the same, thinks the same, does the same etc, we are sadly deluded.
    In Church – the Us, who are united spiritually through relationship with Christ – is not some magically perfectionised, idealic, euphoric, community.
    Neither was Eden some Nirvana. Nor will heaven be. Nor is the Church now.
    Christ brings together people into faith community who are quite different in their abilities, political views, physicality, intellectual capacities, wants, desires, aspirations, ambitions, functionality and dysfunctionalities (we all have them). I think He does that to mature us relationally and spiritually as we struggle together despite our fragile humanity, our weaknesses, our strengths, our humility, overcoming our sinfulness, griefs and sorrows, frailties, to draw closer to being like Christ by deciding to surrender to His Lordship and His Way and decisively choose, that despite all our differences as people we have a common destiny in Journey bound into a sainthood relationship
    with and focused upon the person of Christ. It is Christ’s love toward us which first sows the seed of our ability to love others despite all their differences to us, their discrepancies with our expectations of what is ideal.
    Paul’s modelling of the Church in the book to Ephesians is often misread by some Christians to be about a perfect Ephesians Church. No! No! No! It is a theological description of Church, not a depiction of a perfect Ephesians Church.
    In fact, the Ephesians church had become some big-headed about its own importance and theological superiority, that Paul had to send Timothy to correct it – to bring it back to basic biblical truths taught by Christ such as recapturing its first love (Jesus), even though it was prolifically successful missiologically.
    The Ephesians Church by the time of the writing of Revelations by John a few generations later invoked a stern rebuke for losing its first love.
    The Church which honors Christ will probably not be a band of the perfectly matched in the world’s terms of what is perfectly hartmonious. It will be a genuinely loving faith community, enabled through relationships with Christ and empowered by the Spirit which despite
    all the human’s dysfunctionalities and differences is one which decisively loves, is honest relationally, accepts the realities of differentials of people but surrenders those things to Christ in a decisive preference to love one another. Jesus loves us all, even if he may not like us all. We need to do the same. Maturity has a long-suffering element to it. Matured churches are made up different people, people of difference, people who when you examine the fine print are often quite different, but who when centred in Christ choose to be in community, to negotiate and conciliate, to pray together, and develop ways to work toegther in mission and ministry, and to support one another – to cut things short – to love one another even though they are not all the same.
    Jesus did not call us to sameness. He called us to be one in Christ. I think that oneness is centred and founded upon our Oneness with the One in Christ, and enabled by His Spirit living in all of us who believe in Him as Lord, Messiah and most importantly of all our Friend. Their is a strong case for our mutuality and unity in Christ despite our inevitable differences and fallabilities as individuals.

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  6. My last post might seem a bit off topic, but its really a preamble for what I need to say now.
    This current generation is what is sometimes known as the `unspanked’ (undisciplined), most self-absorbed, least respectful, most materialistic and consumeristic generation.
    Church is a free entertainment `option’, a `personal religious preference’ and God is depersonalised into a “concept”.
    In choosing a church it has to provide the highest quality of musicianship, be a social matching and dating service, reflect the latest fashions in what is politically and religiously correct etc. Bluntly speaking, church has become a business marketing either effectively or poorly a religious consumption product.
    This generation has not been taught how to commit, only to consume. In part that is because successive previous generations have stripped it important things like an catechical basis and reasons for commiting to something like discipleship.
    It wants to be the benefactors of a well-marketed, modern looking, religious product with an option to consume or not to consume.
    This is a church that – in order to be politically, culturally and religiously correct – has forgotten how to speak out honestly about the costs of discipleship, practical and everyday service of others, the mundane but real exigencies of life, suffering in love for a Lord, the everyday stuff, the hard stuff of going against the flow and being ethically unfashionable, and taking up personal and social responsibility.
    Church no longer speaks the hard stuff of the Gospels, but only the nice, fluffy, soft Gospel stuff because it is afraid of losing its religious market share if it does that stuff.
    In the interests of protecting the same religious market share, it will only allow the experts and religious professionals to do anything of any substance in terms of its weekly religious worship services – its weekly advertising campaigns designed to boost memberships and to gain more tithes to keeep the status quo institution going.
    Church is afraid to promote commitment, because it fears it will scare people away.
    And yet, Jesus preached total commitment to Him, His Gospel Way, at the cost of surrendering everything we are, have, or will be.
    Church has copped out of preaching about total commitment to Christ.
    Instead, it is preaching, become a Christian in name like us, but any commitment beyond that point is optional and voluntary at the best.
    Another thing, Church has forgotten how to enable Christians who want to commit fully to see that through practically. It no longer makes disciples, only religious entertainment consumers.

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  7. If people bail out on personal commitment, they need to be held properly personally accountable for doing that.
    A consumer-driven church is a high maintenance church, which will always demand just more and more religious products, but never become a servant or communitarian communitas.

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  8. Yeah, Peggy, I appreciate what you’ve said, including that the “educated” are often not really more educated in God-people relationships than the arguably “less educated”. I reckon “Wow” moments happen when the Spirit of Life is experienced through a life of commitment to the person and Way of Christ, who lived nothing short of the reality of relationship with the Father. I am soooo grateful for frequent “Wow” moments which often happen in a context of paradox… the extremes of the spectrum of people and situations I find myself in on a daily basis.
    The little mission thing I’m involved with on a Sunday afternoon which the local kids call their “church” sure has a cross-section of people who have dropped by for fellowship over the past year when we meet every week in the downstairs room of a run-down gym. It’s almost a pre-foundational work in nature, as we till the over-cultivated soil… we need a fallow season for the ground to regenerate… and that’s what’s happening, it seems, as there are probably two generations in that Aboriginal community almost wiped out through drugs, alcohol, family dysfunction, and dare I say it “bad church”/religious activity.
    However, the “Wow” moments happen regularly in such situations as last week when most of the kids went mad with the paints… we let them have fun and freedom with their creativity, but we do expect respect for each other and the resources we provide at our own cost. They wrecked the canvasses and left the paint tubes, brushes etc in a jumbled mess, insolently ignoring our requests for clean-up before moving outside for an impromptu footy game on the neighbourhood street. Little Benny, whose Mum died not so long ago, and who recently had a broken thumb in a cast, had not been involved with the painting and was playing with a mini ping-pong set while my colleague and I began the pack-up process before going home. It was a little disheartening to have to sort out and throw so much of the wasted paint-gear away, but I heard a little voice say “I’m going over to help her” and so came Benny to help out with the clean-up. It was so funny. He got paint all over his leg somehow, so we had to go to the old basin in the barely adequate ablutions area and wash it all off. He was so keen to help wash down the paint from the basin ever so carefully… I told him that he was doing something just like Jesus did… came to help clean up the mess in the world even though he had done absolutely nothing to cause it! The little smile on his face was a big “Wow” moment for me.
    I’ve been blessed to have some truly ecstatic experiences in community moments with some of the most creative Christians in the world, literally (including Northumbria Community friends such as Andy Raine on Holy Island, perhaps you know of him and folks like “Fraggle”?). I have also had great revelatory experiences with highly theologically trained academics in tertiary education contexts, so it’s difficult to say which were deeper or higher or wider in the scope of “Wow”, as all of them somehow “furthered” me in the love of God.
    But, as the good points in Andrew’s posts illuminated, it brought home that in my recent experience over the past decade, it has been deeply, highly, and broadly difficult to find people to fellowship with on a regular basis who will commit to the undiluted Christ and to journey together for real. I don’t have any problem with accepting and working with a spectrum of diverse types of folks, from the homeless to the celebrity, but all I’ve been able to find are people content to be entertained and/or serve, however diligently, a counterfeit system. i.e. except, for probably a handful of souls so geographically distant (across town, interstate or internationally) that we can’t fellowship very regularly. I know they are committed to the real Christ and love them dearly, but it impacts practicalities on a day to day basis. The fact is that I only really have my husband and one friend to do real prayer and mission stuff with, and a creative group who meets every couple of years to do deep worship with. However, I can go into any local or not-so-local church group and feel a level of ease and appreciation at least on some level because of the universality of the body of Christ and I do have the power of post-modern technology to communicate and network on various “Christocentric” projects…
    We are moving house next week to an unfamiliar area of Sydney, so I live in the hope that God has some good adventures in store… and maybe even the discovery of some people who might be interested in simple but deep church together!

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  9. Given the situation(s) I’ve currently found myself exposed to, I find myself taking a slightly different tactic to. You see, I’m currently watching a sweet, wonderful guy for whom I care deeply get more and more involved in a local church only to watch it have highly detrimental effects on the guy.
    The church wants to get young people involved and active, and I think that’s a great thing. And I think the fact that they have ways for teens and twenty-somethings to actively participate in church leadership and service is great. But I’ve also noticed that this same church has this tendency to keep asking for more and more, and that eventually wears (or burns) a person out. One of the last projects he worked on had him at the church at all hours teaching dancers and adjusting choreography, and was enough drain on him that it started affecting his health. And yet, none of the other people at the church said or did anything about it. I don’t know whether it’s because they didn’t notice what was going on with him — a proposition I find rather hard to believe, to be3 honest — or didn’t care.
    Recently, this same person has been in a lot of pain (read: he can barely walk without grimacing). He went to church on Saturday to work as a greeter despite the pain, and one of the worst episodes him him while there. Quite frankly, it bothers me that none of the other church members noticed it and sent him home (preferably giving him a ride home too). Instead, he ended up finishing out his shift and asking me to come give him a ride home.
    Now, I grant you that I love it when he asks me to give him a ride, as that means I get to spend several minutes talking to him while I drive him around. But still….
    So yeah, “If others aren’t committed, why should I be?” may be a cop-out at times. But at the same time, I think it’s a valid question to ask. Especially when someone’s committed to the point of adversely affecting their own health and no one’s noticing or doing something about it.

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  10. Jarred
    I hear you. Yes, there’s another side to what I’m saying here. Sometimes this confusing of commitments, this over-identification of Christian commitment with church commitment results in co-dependency. Sometimes it results in hyper-activity and workaholism. Both are problematic.
    I’d suggest your friend’s situation reflects exactly the sort of misguided commitment I’m talking about, just in a different form. It’s still people bailing on their commitments. But bailing on their commitment to him, as a person, as a disciple. And ultimately bailing on their commitment to Christ, since the whole point is to grow communities, and every individual within it, in Christ-likeness (this contrasts with the churchian understanding where it’s all about growing numbers).
    Such utilitarianism towards people, that’s not Christlike commitment. That’s exploitation. It maybe be well intentioned exploitation, but the churchianity still needs to be challenged. He’s not a program, he’s a person. I’d suggest to your friend that he needs to recognize that commitment to Christ and commitment to church are not identical. That he could in fact be on a path that is leading him away from Christ-likeness, particularly if he burns out badly.
    So as I see it, Christian community is about committing to one another because of our commitment to Christ, not about committing to programs because of our commitment to the church. Programs were made for people, not people for programs. Commitment to Christ involves humility. Our group was having an interesting discussion on humility the other night. We were reading a passage of scripture that spoke of assessing yourself with sober judgement, neither indulging in pride nor self flagellation (okay, that’s my translation). I think that applies here too. I’d recommend you approach him with a bit of this.

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