Sunday, March 18, 2007

Of 'successful churches' and the IFD Disease

"The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God. It is this responsibility that is being abandoned in spades." (Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles, p2)

How often have we become so enamoured by the ideal of a successful church, that we lose sight of the fact that we can never attain such ideals on our own, simply because we are imperfect people. It is what we come to know as what Wendell Johnson (from his book "People in Quandaries") calls the "IFD disease" that plagues many churches and good Christian people. It starts with an IDEALIZATION which makes demands in life that is impossible. (For example, all Christians should love one another in a certain manner). The lack of progress or success in achieving these ideals then leads to a deepening sense of FRUSTRATION, with one hand holding on to ideals, and the other hand slapped with disappointments. The inability to reconcile the two deteriorates the mood even more. Finally, with DEMORALIZATION/DESPAIR, one grows in sarcasm about Christian ideals.

Instead, I think we should reverse the formula. We affirm that we are already DEAD in sin, and made alive through FAITH in Jesus, and INSPIRED to live in a manner that is congruent with the leading of the Holy Spirit. In the first place, by being dead in sin, we disarm ourselves from the pressures of having to conform to targets set for 'spiritual supermen' or to perform to ridiculous expectations set by other people. Secondly, the humility that comes from a life of faith will free ourselves from making unhealthy demands by our own selves. Finally, a life that is inspired by the Holy Spirit will lead us towards a sense of living for the community by the community.

Beware the seduction of the "IFD disease". The sooner we learn that there are no such thing as 'successful churches' the better. Even more crucial, is that we must remember churches are more accurately called "community of sinners" more than anything else. Lest we crucify one another in our inward/outward expectations. Instead, look at each other with the eyes of forgiveness and the desire to forgive. The Lord's prayer is instructive. The petition to "Give us each day our daily bread" is followed immediately by "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." Isn't that somewhat prophetic, that when we receive, we are also most vulnerable to acts that need forgiving?


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