March 27, 2007
No Transformation Necessary
Why do churches have such low expectations?
Dallas Willard has said, "We fail to be disciples only because we do not decide to be. We do not intend to be disciples." But which is the greater problem, the person who does not intend to be a disciple or the church that never expects him to be one? Dave Johnson, senior pastor of Church of the Open Door in Maple Grove, Minnesota, shares about a man from his childhood church. Ray was an elder who showed no evidence of transformation, and the church never seemed disturbed by that fact. Johnson asks the obvious question: What's up with that?
His name was Ray. He sat in the 3rd row on the aisle seat of the church I grew up in. Every Sunday, there he was - watching, critiquing, making sure my father said it right. Ray's Bible was a thing to behold. Words underlined and circled with arrows pointing to other words - notes in the margin of almost every page. I think he knew the Bible better than God.
Ray was a church guy. When I was 10, he scared me. When I was 20, after my father had begun to share with me the inside story of life in ministry, I came to realize that Ray scared him too. My dad was the pastor of our church. Ray was one of his elders - at least for a time - and he wasn't a happy guy. The Spirit's fruit, like love and joy, rarely showed up in him in any discernable way, and he didn't much like it if showed up in yours.
Sometimes I wonder if I've been too hard on Ray. He's somehow become the composite of every rigid, narrow minded person I've ever met in church. No matter - Ray's dead now - long gone - in heaven, no doubt. At least that's what we all thought, because Ray prayed the prayer. He believed all the right things about Jesus (His death, resurrection, 2nd coming, all that), and would fight you if you didn't. Like I said, Ray was a church guy. He just wasn't a good guy.
So here's my question: "What's up with that?" In all his years in church and in "the Word", Ray never became a different kind of person. He never changed. He never became more loving, gentle, peaceful, or patient. Indeed, he only seemed to become more angry and rigid as time went on. He became harder to be around. What's more, no one seemed to be bothered by that, as though something were out of the ordinary. No one wondered if maybe Ray had somehow missed the point.
In other words, not only did Ray never change but no one seemed to expect him to. Ray was just being Ray. He prayed the prayer, he believed the right stuff about Jesus, he was irritated with people who didn't, and he went to heaven when he died. So again the question: "What's up with that?"
Dave Johnson is the senior pastor of Church of the Open Door in Maple Grove, Minnesota. An interview with Johnson is featured in the upcoming spring issue of Leadership. He will also be a featured presenter at the 2007 Spiritual Formation Forum in Milwaukee June 6-8. You can learn more and register at the Spiritual Formation Forum website.