C.S. Lewis saw the church’s problems ( Failures of Churches ) and advocated personal ministry in the footsteps of Jesus ( C.S. Lewis Nailed it Again! ). The dangers of patriotism to the institution and blind loyalty to leaders can create monstrous abuses in any collective – whether nation, organization or church. So did he propose any solutions? The Four Loves had plenty of this as well.
Raising Awareness: Understanding the Problem
“Every human love, at its height, has a tendency to claim for itself a divine authority. Its voice tends to sound as if it were the will of God Himself. It tells us not to count the cost, it demands of us a total commitment, it attempts to override all other claims and insinuates that any action which is sincerely done ‘for love’s sake’ is thereby lawful and even meritorious.” Understanding the nature of any problem helps us be cautious. By loving our church business without regard to the cost, we can facilitate many abuses. Knowing the potential pitfall that blind loyalty creates, we learn to practice discernment in matters of our larger faith community. Do church businesses always represent the will of God? Of course not – from the crusades to the inquisition and a million smaller examples in specific congregations should give us a sober humility that churches are not always right. In loving a religious faction or institution can we betray our love for God, love for neighbors? It’s wise to admit the possibility.
Hold Leaders Accountable for the Organization’s Behavior – Not Just Their Own
It’s harder for leaders to see when things are going wrong – especially in churches. Good things might still be going on while a cancer is starting to eat away from within. Plus, people who are dissatisfied or hurt just move to another church, so critical mass for reform never results. Upset people just move on and churches go on with the same unaddressed flaws. Calloused leaders can fail to see the subtler symptoms of problems in their church. According to Lewis, “The habit of ‘not giving a damn’ grows on a class. To discount the voice of the peasant where it really ought to be discounted makes it easier to discount his voice when he cries for justice or mercy. The partial deafness which is noble and necessary encourages the wholesale deafness which is arrogant and inhuman… The transition from individual humility to corporate pride is very easy.” Leaders must be willing to be held accountable, not just morally in their own life but also in guiding their church in a virtuous life. Personal scandals are the bread and butter of church gossip but churches themselves are prone to larger abuses that often do not get addressed. Accountability for the organization is just as important as accountability for individual leaders. Leadership as a whole can, regrettably, lose touch with the very purpose of being a church and fail to see the damages left in their wake.
Leaders Must Serve – to Educate, Advocate, Empower and Defend
In Scripture, you never find the Church persecuting its own people or leaders keeping followers down – something commonly found in church businesses today. Not sure you agree? Most of us can resonate with one or more of these:
- Churches that eat ministers alive – frequent turnover in any ministry position
- Churches that are a revolving door for members, who don’t stay long
- Churches that drive out instead of redeeming anyone who fails morally
- Churches who blacklist people with a past from service
- Churches that develop a culture of shame and guilt
- Churches that prioritize finance, program, reputation, etc. over people
As the saying goes, the church is one of few armies that shoots its wounded. How did we get that reputation? C.S. Lewis thinks he knows, and it has to do with leadership stepping out of humble servant roles into power hungry ones. Friendship “is essentially between individuals; the moment two men are friends they have in some degree drawn apart together from the herd… The community may even dislike and distrust it. Its leaders very often do. Headmasters and Headmistresses and Heads of religious communities, colonels and ships’ captains, can feel uneasy when close and strong friendships arise between little knots of their subjects.” Have you ever had a minister warn you who you shouldn’t hang out with? Has a church leader ever warned someone not to hang out with you? Doesn’t that sound a bit like Pharisees telling Jesus he shouldn’t hang out with drunkards and gluttons, tax collectors and sinners? Did it sound a bit like the disciples implying Jesus shouldn’t spend his time on children? If it can happen to the disciples, it can happen to anyone. Leadership who avoids the “least of these” and tells you to do the same, leaders who try to control relationships, or leadership who feel threatened instead of empowering their own people are all red flags.
“The distrust which Authorities tend to have of close Friendships among their subjects: it may be unjustified; or there may be some basis for it… It is therefore easy to see why Authority frowns on Friendship. Every real Friendship is a sort of secession, even a rebellion… It will be unwelcome to Top People… Each therefore is a pocket of potential resistance.” Obviously not all ministers become power hungry, micromanagers who cannot tolerate differences of opinion or small groups that could resist them – but the unhealthy ones do, and they are far more common than people realize. The antidote is leadership who view their role as one of service, raising up their people to be coworkers in the Kingdom instead of fearing them, controlling them, trying to keep them needy or oppressed.
More Grace – to the church and to the world
Should Millennials give up on the church just because she has flaws? Of course, not. “Love never spoke that way. It is like loving your children only ‘if they’re good,’ your wife only while she keeps her looks, your husband only so long as he is famous and successful. ‘No man,’ said one of the Greeks, ‘loves his city because it is great, but because it is his.’ A man who really loves his country will love her in her ruin and degeneration.” This is incredibly true of the church. But loving the Bride doesn’t mean unquestioningly accepting everything she does. People can recognize the degeneration and advocate for reform without ceasing to love. The Church is so much more than she has become – Rogue Millennials love her despite the ugliness and despite the wounds she’s inflicted on others. Having grace toward the church and sticking with her despite the flaws is important. But advocating for reform is also important. Part of that reform is the church learning to extend more grace to the world once more.
Lewis knew the faith wasn’t about comfort. Millennials sure know it, but people sitting comfortably in their pews often seem to forget it’s not about them and it’s not about comfort. “If I am sure of anything I am sure that His teaching was never meant to confirm my congenital preference for safe investments and limited liabilities. I doubt whether there is anything in me that pleases Him less.” Jesus was no stranger to suffering and never stopped loving and investing in others even though he knew it could bring him pain. “We follow One who wept over Jerusalem and at the grave of Lazarus, and, loving all, yet had one disciple whom, in a special sense, he ‘loved’… Even if it were granted that insurances against heartbreak were our highest wisdom, does God Himself offer them? Apparently not. Christ comes at last to say ‘Why hast thou forsaken me?'” According to Lewis, “There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable.” Churches need to be willing to take risks in loving others – to lower their self-assured walls that keep so many people out. Like Pilate, they too often want to wash their hands of messes instead of getting their hands dirty like Jesus.
Humility – God uses the smallest offerings, the smallest groups
And that is what a lot of this comes down to – humility. The willingness to admit the past was full of failures. The willingness to admit that the present isn’t perfect. The willingness to listen to the hurt and abused and outsiders because they might just have valuable insights that we could never see from the inside. “We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the suffering inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him.” Humbly loving others will bring pain, and accepting that pain is another kind of humility; surrendering that pain up to God is yet another.
Jesus, with a handful of disciples from humble background, changed the world. And he’s give us the same charge and he believes in us just as much. Because God knows what small groups of believers can accomplish in their communities and in the world at large. C.S. Lewis reminds us, “Religions devised for a social purpose, like Roman emperor-worship or modern attempts to ‘sell’ Christianity as a means of ‘saving civilization’ do not come to much. The little knots of Friends who turn their backs on the ‘World’ are those who really transform it.”
As much as it pains it to admit, when church institutions become too worldly, reform or turning our backs on it are the only options – and it’s a choice each church institution makes, not a choice the reformers make. So our little knots of friends will continue serving the Kingdom, transforming the world in love and grace and humility while advocating for reform of the larger community as well. Rogue Millennials transform the world. (All quotes taken from The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis)
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