Saturday, October 29, 2005

Bad Reasons to Remain in a Movement

Because an alternative movement has greater problems. Whether or not an alternative movement is worse is largely irrelevant. There may be other alternative movements, one might start a new movement, or perhaps there may be no need to associate with any movement at all.

Because of the ancient landmarks. The reasoning goes something like this: “You are young, and you need to be cautious. You do not yet possess the wisdom that comes only with years. Other men have thought these same thoughts and faced these same frustrations. Be patient, be faithful, and you will understand better in time.” This reasoning is persuasive because there is wisdom in caution and in measured steps. Nevertheless, those who use it must practice it consistently. Would those who rely on this argument counsel a young Southern Baptist frustrated with the doctrinal diversity in his denomination to exercise caution and stay in his movement? I suspect they would not.

Because it is a movement.
There is something magnetic about something big. Everyone wants to be on the biggest, fastest bandwagon, but big is not equivalent to great or right or true.

Because of your career.
Abandoning a movement might make it harder to climb the ministry career ladder. You might lose all your contacts, and your résumé might become worthless. Big deal. This gutless selfishness is the same attitude that in decades past held back conservative pastors with fat pension funds from separating themselves from liberal denominations.

Because of the fear of man.
Have you chosen a milieu for ministry by default—because you are because you dread what people would think or say about you if you were to move to a different circle? Chances are, those people are already talking about you behind your back about one thing or another. You might as well live in the open and give them reason to say what they have to say to your face.

Because you crave affirmation.
Are you crafting your life’s ministry in order to get a speaking engagement or honorary degree from your alma mater? Please, don’t just leave your movement: leave vocational ministry, too. There is plenty of mutual admiration in the world of Christian ministry without you adding to it.

Because you like the trappings of a movement.
I do not perceive this to be a prevalent point in the conversation of the day, but I wonder how many people—pastors and laypeople alike—are where they are because they feel comfortable where they are. They like the environment—the accepted attire, music, and preaching style. They like the standards or the lack thereof. They like the transparency or the anonymity. They like the people and the culture. They like to be comfortable. They want to “be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease.”

Because you might lead the movement someday if you play your cards right.
I hope the Machiavellian essence of this strategy is obvious. To attempt to fly under the radar in a movement in order to hijack later it is theological terrorism. (Sweet mixed metaphor, huh?)

So, why should you stay in a movement? The only remaining option in my mind is that you believe in what the movement is all about. One might see some ways in which the movement could better manifest what it is all about. One might see some glaring weaknesses in how the movement is pursuing what it is all about. Ultimately, however, in its very spirit the movement must be about what is most important—what is undeniably essential. I cannot comprehend how it can be ethical or wise to participate in a movement when one rejects its core ideas. Stand for something because it is true, not because people want you to believe it is true or because you want people to believe that you believe it is true. The Pastoral Epistles have continually challenged me and encouraged me in these matters. First Timothy 4 and Titus 2 are particularly helpful.

But then there is that slippery question about what you should do if you are in a movement that does not consistently define its very essence. (I suspect that most of them do not.) And that question just . . . won’t . . . go . . . away.

4 comments:

G-Harmony said...

Ben,

Regarding your first point (about ancient landmarks and such)... I am reminded of the words of one of my profs at Faith. We were discussing the state of the GARBC, and he told me, frankly speaking, that were he beginning a new church, he likely would not encourage them to join or associate. However, he also believed that, being in a church with a long GARBC history, the responsibilities were different.

I'm not sure I personally would fault a young man in the SBC to stay and contribute with those who would effect change. However, I do believe that those of us whose heritage flows from a different vein have our own household to maintain.

I appreciate the words of caution you bring here. In some ways, it's almost comical, where I minister, to speak of movements and such. I'm so far away from the fray that the matters of politics and identification have little impact on day-to-day church life. However, I do make identifications- because those I associate with help me clarify both who we are (or are striving to be) as a church, but also- and perhaps more importantly for where we are geographically and such- who we are not. There are other issues to consider as well for my flock- for instance, if I get hit by a bus tomorrow, my church would have at least some idea where to begin looking for a new pastor- because of who I have encouraged and led us to fellowship with.

We do need to be careful of the political trappings- but that does not mean that fellowships and movements are always man-centered, power-driven, and career-motivated. The men who I look to as leaders here in New England have, I believe, done a tremendous job of avoiding these pitfalls, yet creating meaningful fellowship.

Michael C. said...

Okay, I give up. Did you have a specific movement in mind? Stay-at-home moms? Mac users?

Ben said...

Michael,

Mac-users, of course. Wasn't it obvious?

You actually made me start thinking through an interesting allegory of the Mac movement and me. I use a Mac, but I'm not one of the movement guys who frequents the Mac-user bulletin boards or watches Steve Jobs' presentations online. I like the product and the ideas, but I don't feel the need to seek out other people who do or go to all their conferences.

Then it occurred to me that I have the little Apple logo sticker on my back window. Yikes, I have no idea what to do with that. Maybe I'm in the movement after all.

G-Harmony,

You made me think some thoughts I had never thought before. Quite the accomplishment, given the fact that some would find the fact that I think at all a surprise. I hope to interact a little tomorrow. Thanks for your insight.

G-Knee said...

I especially appreciate "Crave Affirmation". I think I've seen that in my own life at times...