Pursuing Good: Appropriate

pursuinggood_appropriate

I remember visiting a church with my family following the horrific attacks of 9/11. To be honest, I was not completely sure how I was feeling. I am sure you can relate. How odd was it that this church barely mentioned those events and did not seem to alter their service in any way. I left with nothing. Whatever that service was, it was not good… and we never went back.

I live within a few miles of Charlotte, NC. Recently our city made national news with the tragic police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott and the subsequent protests. This was a time to stand with people who were hurting, to prophetically speak to power, and pray for our police officers. Among the members of our church, we had police officers assisting in the crowd control and congregants joining the protests! I didn’t say this was easy. That’s a lot of emotion to deal with. (And please forgive me for using this tragedy as an illustration. I know how intense it is and that is what makes this conversation about our ministry so critical. Of course I feel that weight. I’m feeling it now.) In fear of not offending anyone or fear of saying the wrong thing, I shudder to think how many congregations completely ignored the entire thing. Shameful.

These examples reveal responses that were neither suitable nor proper (the very definition of appropriate).

If you recall the backstory behind these pursuit of good posts, the example that sparked it all was examining what made an actor good. The characteristic about being appropriate had everything to do with body language and how an actor uses their body as an instrument to convey what is appropriate in a scene. This is an apt metaphor. Are we comfortable in our own skin as the body of Christ?

To be appropriate, we need both emotional range and spiritual fortitude/muscle to wade into these deep waters.

Emotional range

How many emotions are there? Have you ever thought about it?

Disney’s Inside Out movie landed on 5 basic emotions: joy, sadness, disgust, fear, anger.
Not bad. Try as we might, we simply cannot land on anything definitive when it comes to clarifying common, basic human emotions. Travel down that road and you’ll get sucked into a labyrinth examining facial expressions, emotions versus feelings, neural science, and more.

473px-plutchik-wheel-svg

This picture is Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions. Robert Plutchik theorized the eight basic emotions as anger, anticipation, joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, and disgust represented on this wheel. I find it clever how he incorporated concentric circles, color intensity, opposite contrasts, and resulting feelings, all in one chart.

The point I would like to make here is one of emotional range and variety. How many of these emotions are we hitting through the course of our services and events?

Is it possible that we are emotionally stunted? That we tend to move in a favorite emotion but completely ignore the rest? For example, if we try to live in the yellow of joy and its derivative emotions, we are going to have a hard time being appropriate. Let’s be aware of our tendencies within our service agendas to always play the same emotional card focusing on the same feelings. We need to rejoice together but also lament together; dance together yet also weep.

I’m not suggesting we become experts at manipulating feelings. What I am contending for is that if we are going to be good, we have to be appropriate—which requires that we expose and amplify a full range of emotions.

A few cautions may be in order:

  • You don’t have the right to interject examples of very serious trauma in an effort to add gravitas.
  • Don’t flippantly call out abuses that you have not experienced.

I am sensitive to the concern of emotional abuse and therefore want to make sure we are moving out of an appropriateness that corresponds to our own feelings. We aren’t borrowing or leeching off the emotions of others to craft an emotional highpoint. That is the opposite of emotional range. Instead, we should expose ourselves to the full range of emotions and, as the body of Christ, express that full range in a way that is proper.

Like being angry but not sinning.

Some of what is happening in the world should make us angry. As the body of Christ we should be angry. When we see people being taken of advantage of, especially in the name of religion, it is appropriate to prophetically speak against the abuse and overturn some tables. Our anger should lead us to justice, not retribution or vengeance. To me, that is the difference.

When was the last time you left a service or event deeply stirred and on fire to act? This should not be so rare.

Spiritual range

In my opinion, the reason we lack spiritual range in our church services is because we lack true humility and discipleship. Let me explain.

I marvel at many of the spiritual giants I have had the privilege of being around. Watching them minister at the altar, or at a special service event, or on the mission field; they always seem to know just what to do, and how. I have seen altar, prayer warriors dance with people who are experiencing a healing break through, and I have seen the same people kneel and cry beside hurting saints offering a word of encouragement or discernment.

This is spiritual range.
These giants have become a malleable vessel for the Holy Spirit to direct and use in the appropriate gifting needed at that moment.

Let me digress…

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul offers us a list of gifts, given by the Holy Spirit, in operation during corporate gatherings.

1 Corinthians 12:4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.
5There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.
6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit,
9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit,
10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.
11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

My dad shared with me the truth long ago that the Holy Spirit desires to give these gifts to anyone at the appropriate time. The Holy Spirit is using many who are present in different ways, but that does not mean the Spirit will only ever use that person in that particular gifting. I believe the emphasis here is that the Holy Spirit is using many people and in unique ways.

But I also recognize that certain people seem to flow particularly in one or a few giftings primarily. This is why Paul goes on to stress the need of all members of the body for each other. None is more important than the others. All are necessary

Most people we know who become or are spiritual giants, are promoted to pastoring or church planting, because to many, this is the highest calling. This is contrary to what Paul is teaching in the chapter. Part of the reason our churches are anemic is because we have spread our gifting over multiple churches on Sunday. This is my belief.  It takes humility to be a spiritual giant that God uses in a specific area of ministry and remain a support person within a local church.

It is rare to find a gifted person—a person who flows in the gifts of the Spirit—who at some point does not want to strike out on their own and become the leader of “their” ministry. This way they can do things their way and they can have all the opportunity they want to be an upfront minister. However, when the local church is routinely gutted of people resources, the flow of the gifts — the flow of the Spirit— suffers and discipling of others suffers.
Our churches are operating with missing pieces of the body. I see it as a humility issue. And God opposes the proud. Lord, have mercy on us.

Thank God for those who stay. Thank God for those who practice humility and don’t chase their own glory.

Two tensions are in play here:

  1. For those in upfront ministry, stop hogging the spotlight. Give others a turn to develop and exercise their budding gifts. Practice humility. Focus on supporting and discipling others.
  2. On the flip side, if you aren’t getting all the opportunity you want, stop chasing the spotlight and exercise your gifts within your current circle of influence. Practice humility. Focus on supporting and discipling others.

Conclusion

Like any skill or muscle, if we do not exercise or experiment, we cannot improve and therefore will not have the range when needed.

I was very encouraged recently by some well known ministers holding lament services. This is not the norm. Current “successful” church is big, loud, lights-cameras-action with lots of energy. These churches are breaking that cycle. They are experimenting in finding ways to be appropriate with their feelings and expressions of worship. If the Psalms teach us anything, it’s that God wants honesty even if it’s ugly, not a fake veneer of showy religion.

This is what being appropriate will give us.

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