Thursday, March 08, 2018

How to Be Miserable in Your Christian Life: Church Will Destroy Your Comfort Zone

(Please note: the following is not entirely serious--it is written in the style of a satirical self-help book, somewhat in the tradition of C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters, that offers insight and encouragement in the life of Christian holiness by having my fictional narrator, who wants to adhere to the most popular form of Christian practice, advise the opposite.)

How to Be Miserable in Your Christian Life

Chapter Three: Avoid the Institutional Church
(Section Two: Church Will Destroy Your Comfort Zone)

         One of the main things that churches do to threaten our preferred manner of Christian living is to stretch us out of our comfort zones. To be a part of a local church, you’ll often have to get to know people, a lot of people, many of them quite different from you. You’ll be in close contact with stultifying olds, and nauseatingly bland middle-agers, and much-reviled millennials, to say nothing of the untouchable youth. (By the way, if you happen to be a member of one of these age groups, rest assured that you defy the stereotype of your generational set, and that everyone else agrees with me in thinking that you’re actually really cool.)
And it’s not only different generations you have to watch out for. It’s different cultures, too. In many places in our world today, you’ll find churches that harbor several distinct ethnic and linguistic cultures within them. But even in places where there’s only one ethnic or linguistic culture, you’ll still usually find a diversity of economic or class cultures in a single local church. And if you thought that generational differences were hard to swallow, watch out. Cultural differences are far worse, and require a good deal more time, effort, and intentionality to bridge the gap of understanding and move toward the deep love of true Christian fellowship. If that last line doesn’t send a shiver of terror down your spine, I don’t know what will.
            As we all know, the trouble with people who are different from us is that they’re different from us. They like different things than we do. They think differently about issues. They dress differently. I, of course, being enlightened and hip, know that no form of worship music has ever surpassed the monophonic, unaccompanied singing of the Scottish Metrical Psalter, but if I’m part of a local church, then I might have to submit to fog-inducing theological hymns or the overwrought, broken-record refrains of modern worship choruses. (I’m just kidding about the Scottish Metrical Psalter, by the way. It’s still a clear second to Byzantine chant.)
            The point is, if we are members of local churches, we’ll have to learn to get along with people who are very different from us. We’ll be stretched out of our comfort zones. And, as we established in the previous chapters, staying in one’s comfort zone, as much as one is able, is one of the best ways to prevent spiritual growth, and thus maintain the low-level undercurrent of perpetual angst that is so popular in Christian circles nowadays. The fact that listening to the ideas and values of other generations or cultures might broaden your perspective should alarm you. It is far better to remain narrow, to like only the things that you like and to reinforce your belief that everyone else is quite obviously wrong in the worst possible way. Avoiding the local church, especially cross-generational or cross-cultural churches, is one of the best ways to achieve this helpful narrowness of perspective.