The Church’s Schizophrenia
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What is Schizophenia
Before I talk about the church’s schizophrenia, I want to make sure you are clear on what schizophrenia actually is.
Schizophrenia is a severe thought disorder that affects every aspect of the suffer’s life. It causes them to perceive themselves and the world incorrectly, to see things, hear things, perhaps even smell things that are not real. They will often attribute devious motives to people. Delusions of reference are common, where they believe random events are personal messages, or have personal significance.
For some reason, in our culture almost all non-mental health workers think schizophrenia involves a split personality, but that is not true at all. Schizophrenia is actually a completely different illness than multiple personality disorder (now called dissociative identity disorder). Schizophrenia involves only one personality, but that one personality is often unable to tell the difference between fantasy and reality. [Watch A Beautiful Mind if you wish to understand this better.]
“Come out of the world’s chaos, and into ours!”
The church’s schizophrenia can be seen in the way we (I include myself here, for I am part of the church) claim to follow Jesus, who called people into lives of peace and rest (Mt. 11:28-30), and yet we call people to Christian versions of the same chaos we called them out of to begin with. “Come out from the world,” we say. “Join us, and we will lead you into truth.” Hearing this, some people actually do join us, putting aside lives of partying, self-obsession, materialism, etc. Then, once they get into the church, they are simply recruited for our purposes. “Teach this class.” “Run our sound board.” “Come to our events.” They discover they have set aside secular chaos for the Christian brand, which comes with a larger helping of guilt.
This attitude catches on among the people in the church. Much like the church leadership thinks we need the people to run our ministries, the people think the church needs to run ministries of every imaginable kind. I am convinced, after nearly 20 years of pastoring, that many people wouldn’t recognize God speaking to them if his voice came with a kick in the butt, but if you ask many church people what they really need, they will often tell you about some kind of activity. “I wish we had a choir at this church.” “I wish we had midweek programs for my children.” “If only we had an athletic ministry.” Yes, that’s what we need. More activity. More busyness. More stuff to do. Clearly the reason God doesn’t blow the roof off the church and transform us all into people of incredible beauty and love is because we’re not busy enough.
Creating the very problems we then have to solve
Let’s say the church caves in and starts an athletic ministry, perhaps men’s softball. Men from the church sign up to play softball, and some bring their unchurched friends, at the request of the team’s coach. Most don’t, of course, and so you have a bunch of Christian men playing ball together a few times a week. Then, two weeks after a bunch of Christian men have hunkered down to play softball together, the church launches an evangelism class to teach people how to reach out to their unchurched friends. The people who attend this class learn about how to identify and pray for their non-Christian friends, how to invite them to church, and how to have “spiritual” conversations with them. They will also learn about the importance of getting out of the church and going out to “reach” their non-Christian friends.
I have an idea. Cancel the softball team. After all, each man on the team already has a desire to play softball. The community is already running a league. If each man who wants to play simply joins an already existing league in the community — not to evangelize, but to play softball — he will make friends. At some point, a few of those friends might wish to know about his faith. He, in turn, if he is anything other than a salesman, will also wish to hear about what they believe. Those who wish to come to his church may do so, and each man can decide how involved he would like to get, from casual attender to all-out follower of the man from Nazareth. That is, after all, exactly the choice God offers to each of us.
Instead of encouraging the men to join leagues in their own communities, the church, for some reason, thinks it needs its own “Christian” softball league. Of course those men are still expected to “do” evangelism, so this is an “extra” expectation tacked onto their schedules, and onto their lives. It is a problem created by the church in its schizophrenic activity haze, which the church then has to turn right around and fix by teaching evangelism as a class. In doing that, we are teaching foremost that evangelism, like mathematics, is something that must be learned. I don’t think that’s true. If it is, it’s a sign that our faith is not what it’s supposed to be, and if that’s the case, there’s a good chance it’s being taught wrong.
Should you have to learn how to talk about God?
I never took a class on how to talk about my kids, my favorite bands, my health, my career, or anything else that I care about, so why do I need to take a class on how to talk about God, which is closer to me, and more personal to me, than anything else in my life — that is in fact the loom upon which everyone and everything else in my life is weaved? If after the birth of my child someone said, “Come back in three weeks and we’ll teach you how to talk about this experience,” I would have immediately identified the craziness of it. I would perhaps have said, “Are you kidding? You’re going to teach me how to talk about my child? Were you witness to this grand event? Did you spend these nine months anticipating this child’s arrival? I was born to have this child, born to love her, and not only do I not need to learn how to talk about it, but all the duct tape in the world couldn’t keep me from talking.”
Yet the church thinks it needs to teach evangelism. (Ironically, it actually does, since the church has created the separation between its people and their communities to begin with and must now find a way to send people back into those very communities.) In my twenty years as a pastor, I have never once met a person with spiritual questions who needed to attend a class to learn how to ask them. People talk to me freely about their spiritual ideas, thoughts, and questions all the time. It is as natural as breathing. For some reason it seems to be only the Christian people who don’t know how to talk about their spiritual journey. I think I know why.
Why don’t Christians already know how?
We’re at church all the time, with the Christian people. We don’t even hardly have any friends who aren’t Christians, and we barely know how to even talk to non-Christians anymore. The reason we have forgotten it all? Because the church, which exists to echo the call of Jesus for us to be in the world making it better, has us playing Christian softball and going to Christian concerts, and Christian knitting groups (much of which we demand), so we don’t even know how to just be in the real world anymore.
Assessing the damage
This demonstrates how the church, often with the best of intentions, does deep spiritual damage to those it is supposed to help. In my softball team example, the church has effectively taught people to carve their lives up, to see themselves as having a Christian side, a secular side, etc., and to understand God as being at work among certain people and not at work among others. I cannot imagine greater heresy than this! Then we have the nerve in the church to say, “If you are a Christian, Christ has made you whole.” Certainly that is what God desires to do, but it is the church that has taught people how to fragment their lives in the first place, how to divide their friends, ball teams, and music collections into Christian and non-Christian. Jesus never taught anything like this. Not even close. He blatantly disregarded all laws and customs that carved life up in this way.
This is but one fairly small example of the church’s schizophrenia, but it’s an example that is common. This kind of thing is one of the reasons why, in my opinion, the church in America is on the decline. We are not right in the head. We are not clear on what it means to be “salt and light” in the world. We really think that starting Christian versions of secular things is what it’s all about, rather than simply being in and among the secular clubs and groups and organizations and being servants and friends to the people we are privileged to meet in those places. We can, and should, do better.
Question: What examples of church schizophrenia have you seen? What can you and I do about it?