Monday, June 09, 2014

BookPastor >> "No Perfect People Allowed" (John Burke)

TITLE: No Perfect People Allowed: Creating a Come-as-You-Are Culture in the Church
AUTHOR: John Burke
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005, (336 pages).

Is there such a thing as a perfect Church? No. Then why are some people Church shop in such a way as if they are actually looking for one? I have often advised people who are looking for a perfect Church with the following advice: "Don't. If you ever find a perfect Church, do NOT join it, because if you do, you will render it imperfect." If there is no perfect Church, surely we need to learn to accept imperfect people as we ourselves are imperfect people. That is why we need to create a culture of acceptance, so says John Burke, author and pastor of Gateway Community Church in Austin, Texas. Burke calls it the cultivation of a "come as you are" culture which is vital if the Church is going to grow and to survive through this postmodern environment. He begins with some honest and painful assessment of the current skepticism of Culture, Church and Christianity. He calls the Church in modern America as "First Corinthian Church" living in a culture which is pluralistic, messy, and suspicious of anything religious. At the same time, five major impediments are hurting the acceptance of Church and Christianity. The first is the high lack of trust that Church is any helpful or meaningful. Second, there is a growing demand for tolerance from a Church that is increasingly unable to shake off its judgmental label. Third, the struggle for truth in a relativist culture is pervasive. Fourth, many live broken lives one way or another, and this contrasts sharply with Christians, especially those who live as if their lives are perfect. Fifth, the level of aloneness has reached new heights. All five of these challenges are dealt with before the author proposes a model for creating a culture of acceptance.

In creating a culture of acceptance, the first step is to grapple with the trust issue. This is done through frequent dialogue with doubters and freeing people to be authentic. One needs to verbalize the nagging questions of life and accept the diversity without compromising the unity. Keeping a dialogue also means confronting wrongdoing without dismissing the wrongdoer. Authenticity must begin with self. With the maxim, "No perfect people allowed," one is free from the burden of perfectionism.

The second step is to deal with tolerance. This is important because imperfect people come with many different characteristics, backgrounds, and behaviours. Being tolerant means exercising grace amid differences, and navigating a constructive trajectory without becoming abusive or unloving in our responses to sin. While tolerance means learning to accept people at the beginning, it does not mean people "stay that way" must progress along the way of Christ. This way means an increasing love for people, building up Christlike character, building Christ's Church, and also the "rules of running" together. Chapters 7 and 8 are powerful chapters on the tough questions about religion and the homosexuality dilemma respectively. I appreciate the way Burke approaches the homosexuality with a welcoming-but-not-affirming attitude. One example is about predisposition and choice. While Burke accepts that there are people with a certain sexual predisposition that is involuntary, the same people ought to be able to exercise their choice to refrain from sex voluntarily.

The third step in creating a culture of acceptance is the search for truth. It must begin with humility that knows when to doubt, when to be certain, and when to submit. Truth needs to be incarnational, and not just a theoretical proposition. Connected with hope, truth can grow. Key to the discovery of truth is to learn to seek truth as a community rather than to go it out alone. This is important, for it is about keeping one another within the boundaries of acceptance so that everyone have a chance at knowing truth.

The fourth step is to deal with brokenness by creating a culture of hope through the reality of the gospel. In our highly sexed-up environment, it means healing toward sexual wholeness, where sexuality and relationships are to be considered good and wholesome features of society. Burke guides readers through appreciating the issues of cohabitation, premarital sex, and to retrain one's mind to think through the sex issues from God's perspective. The topic of addictions are also dealt with to confront addictions with love

The final step is about building a community of faith as an antidote for a culture that is increasingly full of lonely people. Burke shows us how to connect through compassion, understanding of pain, serving one another, and to create a family of people to support one another.

The last chapter of the book deals with leadership initiatives to kick start the culture of acceptance. Leaders need to envision a way in their own churches and organizations to reclaim broken humanity with the wholesome gospel of Christ. They can find new ways to identify leaders, equip, empower, and to expand their influence far and wide.

So What?

It is important to understand that acceptance does not necessarily mean agreement. Too often, leaders tend to be too quick to jump to conclusions about any one issue. At the same time, leaders can easily be pressured by various people with the church to make a quick conclusion about people and their "imperfect" situations. For a Church to be able to reach out to people outside, they will need to learn to accept one another first. Didn't Christ tell us that by our love for one another, the world will then know that we are the disciples of Christ? That is why the more different Church members are, the better in terms of its outreach potential.

Burke has given us at least five ways to model a culture of acceptance. The first three: Trust, Tolerance, and Truth, are basically the first three layers of any barriers to entry. The last two are perhaps the most important from an emotional standpoint. There can be more. Let me suggest one: Multiculturalism in the Church. Many churches have too many people of their own kind. Racially, there are majority white churches or black churches; Asian churches or Latino churches; and many others. Such churches tend to attract people of their own kind, making it rather difficult to be acceptable to people who are different. Then there are educational classes or doctrinal uniquenesses. Some churches have too many people of a certain age group while others have too few of a particular wage class. If a Church is very diverse and still maintains a strong unity, it will be one of the greatest testimony and evangelistic model for others.

One critique I have is with regards to the overwhelming focus on overcoming postmodernism. While it is true that the postmodern environment is an important component to deal with, it is only part of the whole puzzle. What about spiritual warfare? What about the difficulty with regards to other differences. What about the issues pertaining to Christianity in the international scene? Of course, Burke is writing more from a North American perspective, and in particular, from a Gateway Church perspective. Perhaps, I can point to Hazel Rose Markus's book "Clash! 8 Cultural Conflicts that Make Us Who We Are" as a resource to deal with other cultural challenges on a more global scale.

That said, I can still recommend this volume as a way to initiate conversations with unchurched people.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


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