It’s time. Time for me to rip off the mask. Time to pull back the curtain. Time for me to expose the biggest problem with the American church. In an earlier post I said the biggest weakness of the American church was the Pastor. Now I want to expose it’s central problem. I call it the “Professional Christian Syndrome”.
Professional Christians are all of those that are either paid staff or volunteer staff of the church. They are those that are considered the leadership in your church. They are the ones on stage during the church services. They are the Sunday School teachers, greeters, ushers, deacons, elders, board members, and small group leaders. They could also be anyone who spends most of their time and energy dedicated to being a “good Christian”.
They are all fakes. They are phonies. They are putting on an act in front of others. They are like professional actors each and every week, taking their place on the stage called “the Church”. They are (to use the exact definition of the word) hypocrites.
Now, before you fire up your comment pen and rip me apart. Before you write and tell me all the examples of believers you know that aren’t phony (including yourself). Before you declare that I am over-generalizing. Before you say that I am simply being cynical. Let me state this loud and clear: I am not saying that all of these people are fake all the time. I am not questioning that they are, in fact, genuine about their faith and/or relationship with God and Jesus Christ.
I am just saying that anyone in a leadership position, when called to perform the function that the title or position they hold causes them to perform, is faking it. They are “turning it on” to look good, or impress you, or excite you or even comfort you. They are playing a role. The biggest offenders are the ones that are our leaders. The Senior Pastors, Associate Pastors, Worship Pastors, Education Pastors, Youth Pastors and yes, even the sweet Children’s Pastors. None of them are above faking it when it comes to doing their jobs.
This fact hit me the other night during our podcast called “Prayer”. Josh and I were talking through a little skit we were planning and when it came time to act it out, I fell right into the role of “Pastor Steve Chastain, Professional Christian”. Now, what I was saying in the skit was totally fabricated, but how I was saying it became so natural. I fell right back into the speech patterns and words that I would use so often in public prayer. I did the whole thing in one take. It was perfect.
And that is when it hit me….that was too easy. Falling into my character of “Pastor Steve” was a role I played very well up until about six months ago. Although I have been out of full-time ministry for over six years, I was still leading and teaching in my church as a volunteer and still “acting” each time I was called upon to lead. What is scary is how easy it is to fall back into my “starring role” at the drop of a hat?
I would show up at church, roll out of my car each and every Sunday and put on my “game face”. That’s right…and if you are in leadership you do it too. I know it’s a way of coping and that in some ways we all do it each and every day to get through life. I am not naive to this.
But I am sick and tired of people talking about how genuine their faith is, or how one distinctive of their church is “authenticity”. None of us are genuinely authentic because if we were our church services would not be a bunch of “shiny happy people holding hands”. It wouldn’t be feigned care and concern when all you can really think about as the “on stage personality” is how the service went too long and we really need to tighten up the “dead space” between the announcements and the special music. It wouldn’t be lip service of how we care about hurting people when there are hurting people you know about and haven’t even taken the time to call them because they are “living in sin” according to your sense of “self-righteousness”.
What are we supposed to do if it isn’t to reach out to people, even if we think they are “in sin”. Isn’t that the point?
If you really cared you would immerse yourselves in people’s pain, not patronize them. You would stop praying nice public prayers that are routinely used to manipulate people with emotion. You would invite people to get on stage and share real life examples of what it means to struggle with their faith. That’s so much more meaningful than another movie clip from “Bruce Almighty”. You would be more like an “AA” meeting than an “Amway” meeting.
Think about this the next time you go to church. Go there with a skeptical heart this weekend. Remove yourself from the situation. Listen to the public prayers and the messages, watch the interactions and hear the conversations. Look for the way your pastor plays his role during his message. Hear how he prays on stage and the way he interacts with people before and after the service. Watch the worship leader lead the music and see the pained expression of “authenticity” on his face. Try not to gag.
The Sunday services in most churches take place on a stage. Stages are for acting. What else should we expect?
Watch them all…and watch yourself and the way you interact. You are guilty… I am guilty… we are all guilty. Why? Because we learn from those that teach us and they are teaching us very well to be “good Christians”.
If you are reading this and you think I am talking about you and your church, well maybe I am. No…you are probably right. I am talking about you and your church. Sure, I probably should have talked to you first before publicly expressing it on a blog. I know that’s what you would like me to do. Certainly that might have been the “good Christian” thing to do….but I am a hypocrite too. It takes one to know one. After all, I am a professional.