Study Guide: Having it “Just So”

Sunday March 21, 2004 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

The choices we make often result in more stressful lives, which, in turn, “stresses God out.” In our quest to have everything “just so” (from our cereal to our vehicles to our neighborhoods), the majority of churches do not reflect the diverse body of Christ.

Extended Summary:

Recently we have been hearing about stress and how it affects our lives of faith. Greg intended to continue in this vein today but instead, he felt led to talk about what “stresses” God out about how we humans are dealing with choices and stress. Of course, God is the God of peace and doesn’t actually participate in our “stressing out” because of God perfect perspective on all things. But God does indeed grieve over our brokenness in this regard. We are overwhelmed with choices about everything from cereals, toilet paper brands, and TV stations to cars, homes and places to live and work. Obviously some of these are more important than others but they all require some of our attention. The sheer multiplicity of them is outrageous! We like to have the freedom to choose what we like, but at some point the cost outruns the benefit and the stress is no longer worth the “freedom” found in the choice.

Even though we have more choices now than ever, we are clearly not any happier than the previous generation, or the generation before that. What has happened is that we have been trained to expect more. More choices, more quality, more time savers, etc. With all of these choices comes the expectation that we should be able to have everything “just so” as Greg put it. We become spoiled and picky about things many people don’t and never did have choices about!

All of these choices tempt us to grow accustomed to having our way about most everything we can imagine. What grieves God in this is that we bring this attitude in to the church with us. When people come to church with a consumeristic shopping mentality, the church frequently responds with some form of customer service. What do the people want? Who is our target market? How can we get repeat customers? And so forth… People get the impression that they ought to be able to find a tailor fitted church that suits their tastes for sermon style, length and topic; worship style, speed, and volume; theological preferences, building appearance, etc… In the end, as churches cater to these desires the churches inevitably move toward distinct homogenous (all the same, like all white middle class, etc.) environments. Everything feels comfortable then and now “normal” has been found and defined by this particular context. This is why 98% of the churches are 98% homogenous. Some church growth experts actually encourage this! But it clearly goes against a central vision of the church as the whole body of Christ. Every tribe, every tongue, all the nations and peoples of the earth united as the Father, Son and Spirit are united in God (see John 17 for Jesus’ prayer for the church in this regard).

If we maintain homogenous environments, we will never learn how to love as God loves. It will also compromise our witness to the world because they will see that segregation is worse in churches than in any other environment in America. One of the reasons Jesus died on the cross was to reunite humanity, and it needs to be one of the Church’s goals to manifest this.

If the goal is an environment that reflects the diversity of God’s Kingdom, a church that is true to form, true to it’s destiny, “a preview of heaven” (as Efrem says) then having things “just so” for one group of people is not in the cards. Even if it is the largest group, it is not godly for one group to dominate the others by imposing all their preferences on the others. Just as in a marriage, no one would expect a wife to conform to all the whims, desires and preferences of her husband, why should we expect others whom we claim to invite to conform to all of our preferences? If you are not sure what I am talking about, simply visit a church that is homogenous but not like you. Visit an all Black or all Hispanic congregation and see if it suits you and your preferences. If not, notice that it may be the case that people from those congregations might feel the same distance in our building as well.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Reread Phil. 2:3-7. Do you think that this passage applies to the various issues of church preferences listed above? Things like music styles, preaching styles, building appearance? Brainstorm about the kinds of things that we might be able to do to broaden the range of people who would find some sense of belonging here.
  2. Do you agree with Greg that when we ask people to join us, but we don’t make any effort to change things to the preferences of those we are inviting we in effect are saying, “Come, all are welcome, so long as you join us on our terms.” And, “Leave your cultural values at the door, don’t disrupt our way of doing church because we have it all set up ‘just so.’” Or do you think it is good and appropriate to have things the way we like them and if others have different preferences they can go to a different church? There are plenty to choose from after all right?
  3. Greg’s last point related Phil. 2:3-7 to the calling on WHC to be a Bridge. How would these verses in Phil. change us as we continue to pursue being a bridge that crosses economic, cultural, denominational, ethnic and other lines?