Thursday, April 30, 2015


In my 14 years of being a born again Christian, I am finally coming to terms with certain “evangelicalisms” that have been pounded into me sermon after sermon, youth group event after youth group event, and spiritual growth conference after spiritual growth conference.

In the hope of freeing others from the grasp of these often passionately but wrongly appropriated adages, I have listed a few here, with my conclusions. 

Again, this isn’t to “bash the church” but to free people from unnecessary bondage to an often extroverted, clichéd paradigm of what it means to be a Christian, imposed by other Christians. It is a paradigm that often puts man’s ideas at the center, even Christian man’s, and not God’s. By breaking away from these stereotypes, I believe we free the true Body of Christ to flourish in its God-given diversity of personalities and talents.

Here they are:

“I challenge you!”
When we hear this, we need to be reminded that it is a human who is challenging us, not God. Yes, I know that God speaks to us through other people. But “I challenge you” has become such a bleeding heart tactic of leaders in evangelicalism that I believe it cannot be trusted.

What are the motives behind the person’s challenge? Are they mimicking something they read in a church growth article? Is the challenge in line with Scripture? How can one youth pastor claim to know how to challenge 750 kids in the exact same way?

If the challenge is to “Get out of your comfort zone” (which it so often is), how can that challenge be customized for every individual student listening in a one-hour rally-for-Christ? It can’t, because it’s almost always framed within an emotional paradigm of charisma and choking-back-tears passion. Many youth, not to mention adults, don’t even know where to begin with that appeal once they leave the auditorium.

These types of challenges ring loudly yet with very little, if any, accompanying discipling or equipping of individuals in Christ’s diverse Body.

My recommendation is to go home, take out the Bible, sit with God and listen to what He is telling us, which will often over-rule (and yes, perhaps at times even confirm) an emotional speaker’s challenge. But at least we are taking God’s Word for it under right motivation, and not under manipulation or emotional coercion.

“Get out of Your Comfort Zone!” 
I refer to this in the above paragraphs. So much could be said on this one. Suffice it to say, again, that when a speaker admonishes people that they are too comfortable and need to become “uncomfortable for God,” watch out! What they are really saying is, “You need to do Christianity my way,” and that usually implies an extroverted, highly social model.

Again, someone who loves public speaking and taking groups on mission trips is going to promote this way of life to others. When “Get out of your comfort zone” always means “public speaking and hanging out in large groups and talking to strangers,” then where is the getting out of one’s comfort zone for those who are already comfortable with public speaking, hanging out in large groups and talking to strangers?”

Sadly, Scripture is often cherry-picked to guilt people into this one, with the incessant push to make every Christian an uncomfortable extrovert.

“Be missional.”
I have yet to have it explained to me what, exactly, this means and why it is the sweetheart of contemporary corporate church. It’s a recent bandwagon, but how is it any different than what Scripture already calls for?

A pastor’s attempt to illustrate this term occurred once while I was in a contemporary evangelical church service. The entire congregation was asked to reach over and pull out the label sewn into the back of the shirt worn by the person sitting next to us. All of my personal-space-invasion red-light alarms were going off, but I obliged, “got out of my comfort zone” and touched the shirt of the person next to me. “Made in Thailand,” I believe the tag said. 

So...what now? We all waited in expectancy. Nothing. We were simply meant to ponder, with the pastor lamenting, “I don’t know what the answer is.” But praise God we all now knew where our neighbor’s shirt was made!

Incorporating the word “missional” into a teaching usually amounts to a lot of hand wringing, angst and questioning of our faith and humanity, but offers up very little in the way of Scriptural answers to the questions being posed (see 2 Timothy 3:7). In my experience, therefore, to be missional means to desire to be on a perpetual mission of never arriving at answers, and made to feel bad about it. 

“Be authentic.”
The same can be said for this statement as for “Get out of your comfort zone.”

When I hear this, I hear, “Be like me.” I also hear, “Lay it all out. No hold-outs. Take off your mask.”

True authenticity cannot be forced in the name of “being real with one another.”  The times I’ve capitulated to this, and I know others say the same thing, I’ve later resented it and felt taken advantage of. The Holy Spirit wasn’t leading me, the person of “authentic” dominance was.

What the push for authenticity seems to lose sight of is the fact that being authentic starts with investing time in a relationship, and results in discipleship, which keeps God’s Word at the center. Cutting to the chase too quickly can end a relationship before it even starts. The Bible is clear that we are to be patient with one another, so why this aggressive strong-arming to immediately and always be “authentic?”

I believe it is better to encourage people to be who they are in Christ, and focus on how to become authentically other-centered, not self-centered. And that begins patiently, with the God-led building of relationships, His way and in His timing.

“Let Go and Let God.” 
The problem with this one is that it becomes a pat answer to people in real pain. This is the antithesis to the problem I list with authenticity. While authenticity comes on too strong, “Let go and let God” comes on too weak. 

Pat evangelisms (such as “God never gives us more than we can handle”) are common in Christendom. And unless we know the person we are using them with very well, and in a light manner, we ought to stay away from them. I believe these pat responses also stunt our growth when they take on a life of their own and risk becoming our theology.

Calling God “Daddy.” Ouch!

“Do Big Things for God”
Again, this usually means “Do the things I think you should be doing in order to be a real Christian.”

It is so easy to be manipulated by this one. But be careful! The “big” thing the leader is imploring us to do may be just the thing that takes us away from the “small” thing God already has us doing or would like to see us do. 

Faith is not “one size fits all.” Faith and service is not only what the well-meaning but overly enthusiastic pastor or leader describes it as. 

We need to be humble before God, not man, in discerning God’s will in our decisions. A truly humble leader will direct us to do just that. It is so important to have the courage of our Holy Spirit convictions to say “No” to people who are trying to force us into their definition of service. Don’t let anyone dictate or measure your spirituality by how and where you serve.

“Living in Brokenness.” 
The context of this phrase is that we are always in a state of brokenness and the part about new life and victory in Christ gets left out. 

I once attended a service where a poster announcing “No Perfect People Allowed” adorned the front of the sanctuary. I do think Jesus, who is perfect, was allowed, but with all this imperfection being celebrated, He was pretty difficult to see.

Yes, we are broken. But we are not to wallow or revel in brokenness. We are to repent of our sin and forgive those who have hurt us. It’s not easy but at some point, it has to be done. 

We will never be free of sin entirely, but a constant appeal to luxuriate in our brokenness keeps us in a state of either victimhood or failure to overcome. We must be patient with everyone. But a one-sided message of brokenness is not the message of Jesus Christ, who speaks of new life and relief as well.

The reason I single these platitudes out is because they are phrases I once fell for and was manipulated by because I was new in the faith. To be honest, I didn't know any better. 

I’m sure that for the most part those who say them do it without even thinking, and in albeit misguided sincerity. But anything outside of Scripture that gets repeated to the point of becoming a buzzword, mantra or cliché ought to be questioned and then retired from daily use. 

Again, Scripture is our best way to test everything we hear, and we are wise to hold everything we hear accountable to it.

copyright Barb Harwood

“Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” 1 Timothy 4:16

“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching...Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Ephesians 4:14a, 15-16

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