Easter this year marks a sizeable milestone for me: it will be 15 years since I turned to Jesus as a high-school finishing 18 year old. I cannot believe I have been in faith for so long because it is nearly half a lifetime and I can see in so many ways that it has changed my life incredibly for the better. Had I not come to faith I would- I am sure- have lead an incredibly self-driven life that would have ended in endless sexual promiscuity involving drugs, alcohol, and early death. I would never have enjoyed the blessings of marriage and parenthood and had the privilege of knowing my wife 지현 and fathering Olivia and Zoe, people who have blessed me richly and aided me in my healing journey.
Since becoming a Christian I have been to more churches than I have fingers on my hands. I have attended five Anglican fellowships (1998-2009); a Presbyterian church (2000); a Pentecostal fellowship (2003-2004); a charismatic fellowship (2011-2013); 2-3 independent churches in South Korea (2008-2009); as well as enjoying the preaching ministries of people in the US (Charles Stanley, Tim Keller; John Piper; and Mark Driscoll); and para-church organisations such as university campus ministry (1999-2001). I was raised a Catholic and am now at a Baptist College and attended numerous conferences, conventions, seminars, and whatnot. Although it would be a stretch to say that I’ve ‘been to every church’ I’ve seen many in my time. I am familiar with many of their ways and the Christian-ese that each one speaks, especially of Reformed evangelical (missional) Protestant ones. Not many people have actually known of me how many churches I’ve attended, and when I tell people of about it their reaction is understandably a confused one. Why keep shopping and hopping about?
Admittedly it wasn’t a healthy thing to be changing so much and it often made it hard for me to settle and get to know people, though in truth I had many reasons for doing it. One of the biggest reasons was that I kept hearing in many of these churches a push for people there to evangelise, spread the gospel, do Kingdom work, enter the field where the workers are few, and do mission, evangelism, mission, evangelism, mission, mission, mission, mission, mission, mission, mission, and evangelism. ’Missional’ has been one of the darling words of these churches and leader of fellowships that uses that word is are quick to get a listen to and hailed as a pioneering success.
However, as I went to these churches I often experienced the creeping- and frightening- thought that in any given church I was not someone necessarily valued in a spiritual family (in and of myself) but someone who was there to beef up the size of the Kingdom of God in general and a local church more specifically. I began to think that I was just another bum on a pew there to enhance the coffers of the church. This was not true of every church but it was there in many of them. Over and over I observed that the average- if not most- sermons at least contained injunctions to evangelise. Many looked at God and apprehending Him deeper, though that too was done to inform people on how to evangelise. I can scarcely recall a sermon that explored how the wonderful truths we were learning were able to heal at a deeper heart level, and that was particularly what I needed when I was struggling with anger and relational and sexual brokenness and the grief of losing my mother to cancer in 2001 among many other things. The passage most frequently preached on to garner the evangelising spirit was Matthew 28, where the so-called Great Commission was explored to such an extent that I felt guilty if I was not out there being an evangelist: it became what I called the Guilty Commission. Even though door knocking and street evangelism weren’t my giftings, I was expected to do those things on many of the holiday missions that I went on (1999-2003). I did them because I was told and I thought that was meant to be fulfilling expectations of me as a Christian. Sadly, it did precious little: I disliked doing many of those things because all that well-intentioned ministry activity hid my deeper brokenness, the stuff people kept turning their eyes away from again and again. I was initially afraid to speak out and say something because I worried that doing so would make others think I was an insincere Christian, though the irony of that was that by doing all that mission work by guilt and not sincere service I was actually portraying myself in an unfaithful way (contra. 2 Cor. 9:7). Eventually I did voice my concerns, but many of the leaders took me swiftly to the Guilt Commission, where I was told that evangelism was meant to be a magic wand to deal with life’s problems (or to cover them up) and that ‘doing my bit’ for the Kingdom would earn me God’s approval.
I have found it very sad and worrying. I am sure I am not the only one going through it and since going to Bible college since 2011 I have come across others with the same burning frustrations. I love church and the sinful, broken people in it and want others to know that Grace of Jesus, but I can only outreach if I am called, if I am ready, and when it comes out of the love-filled outflow out of my heart, not by a legalistic application of the sermon on Matthew 28 and other passages. I believe that if people sincerely take the Sermon on the Mount seriously and put it into effect into the junk of their brokenness, then the Great Commission will become an organic outflow of joy rather than a legalistic obligation. When I went through all of this, I simply wanted to know whether or not I was a valued member of God’s family regardless of whether or not He had been using me to bring at least one sinner to repentance. In fact, I needed to take Jesus seriously when He said that the second-greatest commandment is to love others as I love myself- that is, if I do not love myself and experience inner healing then I am not in a position to reach out to others with grace. And that is OK: God understands it and safe people get that even if few others do. I am not saved on the basis of how many souls I have won for Christ but whether I have received His Love or not. But it is a worry that so many churches think otherwise and that many preachers teach evangelism at the expense of other things, and it is telling that western churches these days are declining as they are (note the words of that famous Beatles song, Elanor Rigby). Where can broken people go in church? Is there any place for them where they are not pored at to take on such and such a responsibility but to just be in church and have their cares listened to? What is the solution that does not involve mere pressure to evangelise? Are ministers/preachers dealing with their own brokenness or are they hiding it underneath veneers of evangelical/church growth ‘success’ and making their families and church communities suffer in the meantime? When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, she evangelised after her healing and more tellingly she was never commanded to evangelise- she did it organically out of the generosity of her heart. This truth has gone missing today.
Sadly, I have been to a number of evangelical churches where life together and being a grace-filled fellowship has been divorced from evangelism. Spreading the Kingdom has been reduced to events (bring-your-non-Christian-friends kind of things) rather than loving one another (contra. John 13:34-35) in truth. Tragically in many such places, knowing about loving each other from the Bible’s perspective has taken the place of actually living out of Biblically apprehended love. One church that my wife and I attended had some well-oiled evangelical events but failed completely in forgiving each other; favourtism and one-upmanship were what really characterised it, and broken people like us in that fellowship were swiftly reminded that there really was no place for us. We were in many ways an unwanted harvest. In such circumstances it was hard to know where to go, as much as going to church was something that we wanted to do. Churches are meant to be safe places but so often they are not. Yet the church is in such a great need of pastors who can actually communicate to people’s deeper hurts and minister life-giving balm and prepare people thoroughly to connect with God (Amos 4:12) than there is a need for evangelists.
There are many things that churches can do to change direction in this regard, to bring healing to such an extent that life together and evangelism are natural outworkings, but that is the subject of a future blog post! This one today is just a reflection to get people thinking about these things. One way of doing this is to reflect on the case of William Carey, the founding father of mission to India. This man took his first reluctant wife and children to India where Carey neglected his family to pursue mission. His mistreatment of them was abominable. According to Wikipedia (accessed 22 Feb. 2012):
Dorothy [Carey's wife] faced enormous difficulties in adjusting to all of this change; she failed to make the adjustment emotionally and ultimately, mentally, and her husband seemed to be unable to help her through all of this because he just did not know what to do about it. Carey even wrote to his sisters in England on 5 October 1795, that “I have been for some time past in danger of losing my life. Jealousy is the great evil that haunts her mind.”
Dorothy’s mental breakdown (“at the same time William Carey was baptizing his first Indian convert and his son Felix, his wife was forcefully confined to her room, raving with madness”) led inevitably to other family problems. Joshua Marshman was appalled by the neglect with which Carey looked after his four boys when he first met them in 1800. Aged 4, 7, 12 and 15, they were unmannered, undisciplined, and even uneducated.
It’s a tragic story and Carey married two times after that, seemingly oblivious to the mistakes that he made while married to his first spouse. It makes one wonder: what role did Dorothy and her children have? Who was there to meet their needs? Were they less important than Carey’s mission? If you were pastoring Dorothy and William’s children, how could they be advised to get help and seek healing in their family?