Turning an Organism into an Organization
They all look the same, but ...
"ALL R-R-RIGHT!" roared the gym teacher. "LINE UP AGAINST THE WALL AND COUNT OFF!"
Eyes rolled. We knew what was next: drills. We dutifully lined up and hoped we were four people away from our friends (if we had them). However, there were no guarantees that the teacher would say there were four teams. "SOUND OFF - TO FOUR!" the gym teacher would shout.
... and so the line would go until the last one counted his or her number. "ALL RIGHT THEN! ALL THE ONES GO TO THAT CORNER, THE TWOS OVER THERE, THE THREES UNDER THE BASKETBALL HOOP AND THE FOURS AT THE BACK!"
The idea was to make the teams as random as possible, maybe even to get kids to interact with each other that would not normally do so on the school grounds. All it did was put us - or at least, those of us who never fit in - into awkward social situations with people who hated (or at best, tolerated) us. For the most part, they were people with whom we had nothing in common. There was no team spirit, nor could any be manufactured on such short notice. The teacher never "got" that.
Decades have passed and I'd almost blocked that painful set of memories from my mind. Until a church I was in decided to initiate "small groups." But instead of just offering a bunch of different topics and allowing people to gravitate to the group they wanted, THIS is what happened: we had to sign up on a master list, and write down some personal information - such as whether we wanted to (or minded others if they were to) take the children along, whether we had allergies to various kinds of foods, that kind of thing. Then we would be assigned a group and a leader for that group (who had been "trained" for the purpose.)
I'm sure that this approach would work for people who are well-adjusted and popular. But for the rest of us - it was torture. The very nature of small groups is that they are organic. Yet... here they were trying to organize them. And then they wondered why the concept never caught on. The small groups idea (such as it was) died.
Legislated liberty. Freedom in name only. Of course it dies. It's what happens every time you try to organize an organism. This part goes here, that part goes there. Except: an organism is a living thing - you start taking it apart and that's called vivisection!
And vivisection - dissecting something while it's still alive - KILLS it.
The industrial model - cookie-cutter Christianity
The New Testament writers didn't call us the "body of Christ" for nothing. Yet somewhere along the line, the church started using the world's methods and mind-set either to fit into the world a little better, or to keep its own members in line. In the early church, this was not a big problem, but when Christianity became not only acceptable, but the state religion (think "Holy Roman Empire") the whole world system of rules, regulations, and ritual was born into the church and has never left it, aside from pockets here and there where God burst through the trappings and made a difference in people's lives.
Yet even then, these pockets have not lasted, largely because someone, somewhere along the line, said something like this: "You know, we have a lot of people here - things would work so much better if we organized it a bit." And the Spirit gradually withdrew because HE wasn't in charge any more - the people had decided to take over ... and by the time they had the whole thing well in hand, He had already gone. Oh, to be sure, in a way He was still present in that He resides in every believer, but that special touch, that anointing ... evaporated. And nobody figured out why; most never even knew He had left.
It's the mass-production, the industrial model of Christianity, that has done more to damage the Christian Life - the adventurous, exciting life that Jesus wants us each to have - and it's happened largely without our being aware of it. The alluring but deadly idea is that every Christian must look like every other one, no differences, just pumping off the assembly line like so many carbon-copies of each other.
I call it "cookie-cutter Christianity." It's based on fear and on lack of trust in God. The idea is that if you are a Christian (like me) then you have to look a certain way (like me) and behave a certain way (like me) and believe the same thing (as I do) or maybe I'd better question whether you really are a Christian. (Huuuh?? Who gave you THAT right??) There is no allowing for individuality. There is no celebrating uniqueness. There is comfort in uniformity! (Yeah, there was for the Nazis too...) Oh, come on - everyone knows that stuffed-shirt, judgmental so-and-so who thinks that if you don't wear a 3-piece suit to church and talk (amen) as if (amen) you had spiritual Tourette's (amen) then you certainly (amen) aren't as sanctified as him (amen hallelujah!)
I wish I was exaggerating. And I'm not trying to say my particular brand of Christianity is any better than anyone else's or that the guy in the 3-piece suit doesn't love the Lord: bless him! It's just something I've noticed - something that bugs the life out of me - that the folks who tend to be like that expect everyone else to be that way too.
Meanwhile, the world looks at this dogmatic damnation going on, the fights and the backbiting that inevitably happen when people are judging one another, and they laugh up their sleeves at the absurdity of it. "Sure, Jesus sets you free. If that's freedom, count me out!"
I used to think that this was the way things were in this culture, that it was no longer possible to live in the context of an organism-based group of people the way Jesus seemed to think the church was going to be. I used to believe that ... until I ran across a group of people who were exactly what I envisioned the church - the real church with no trappings of organization (i.e., formula-based living) and no hint of cookie-cutter mentality - to be. I'd been taught that this group was a "non-Christian" group. I was taught to be suspicious of all things "non-Christian" ... and then, I needed this group to survive something in my life that was overwhelming for me.
The rest of the dough
When I walked through the door of this group, they didn't care where I'd been, didn't care what my background was, didn't care how much money I had, whether I was in tattered jeans and a tank top or in high heels and designer clothes. They didn't even care what things I could do well. They just accepted me for the fact that I was there and that I needed help. That's all.
There was the implicit understanding - from the start - that there was more to the dough than just what fit into the cookie-cutter. They celebrated not just the part inside the cookie-cutter, but the rest of the dough too - whether it was raw, or just half-baked - in other words, they accepted me as a whole person who was wounded and broken, and they embraced me just as I was, sliced, diced, cracked, and torn. In spite of our differences, we each had that one thing in common: we were all broken ... somewhere inside. It didn't matter where, or in what way.
I didn't need to wear a mask with them. I didn't need to throw away the rest of the cookie dough. It was okay to be me. I didn't have to change who I was. I was accepted ... even loved ... without having to do anything at all. How liberating! All the spontaneity that I sought in the church (in vain) - I found with these people. All the depth of meaning and the unconditional love I craved but had found lacking in the church - I saw expressed in these beautiful people as they lived out their faith without judging anyone else's.
Since becoming aware that it IS possible to know that kind of dynamic in a group, I've been bucking all kinds of pre-conceived notions and daring to be real and vulnerable in my own church. It's a rather interesting journey so far, and I've learned a lot about trusting those who are trustworthy and about being true to who I am, instead of cow-towing to the ones who would try to get out the cookie-cutter again.
Do I always succeed? Hmmm, I'd say not. But ... that's okay. I'm still me. And I'll share my story with anyone who has ears to hear.