Sunday School Answers Are Killing the Church!

In Christian RealTalk, Tough Questions by Antwuan Malone19 Comments

Fakers! Hypocrites!

That’s what they call us. They, being church bashers. They say we aren’t who we say we are, that we don’t say what really think. And because of we don’t, they say we grow more irrelevant with each passing day.  Because, who listens to fakers and hypocrites?

I agree with them.

I think the number one problem for the modern day church is the decrescendo of its voice in society. We don’t matter as much as we used to. We are losing relevance. Our light is dimming.  And while there are several reasons for the increasingly hoarse voice of the church, one of the biggest is our lack of authenticity. Christians don’t come across as real.  Especially while in a church.

The America church culture seems to emphasize “Good Christian” answers. There’s a Christian political correctness in the air in our churches that shoves our faces behind masks. We hide our true thoughts and feelings most of the time, and we shouldn’t have to. Hiding keeps us from responding in  authentic ways. Without authenticity, how can we expect to enjoy meaningful community?

The pressure to give good-sounding, Sunday School answers to Bible study questions and, even to real life questions asked in church settings, should not exist. We don’t need to dig into our little black bags of church answers for the real life questions are asked in church? Hello? Religious questions are not pop quizzes we need to ace. Don’t get me wrong. Church answers are great, as long as they reflect what we truly feel. The issue us that most “Sunday school answers” rarely reflect the person’s true thoughts… and people can tell.

So why don’t we say what we feel?

Maybe it’s because we’ve never allowed the questions of life to really challenge us. We haven’t taken them personally enough. We never release ourselves to wrestle with our doubts and questions. And as a result, we don’t own our answers. Instead, we whimsically pass along rented answers handed to us by our parents or a respected spiritual leader. In that sense, the world is right to see the local church as a farm of hypocrites, a factory for production-line Christians trained to respond to life in the same, monotonous, impersonal, inauthentic ways.

We’ve been trained to hide our fears, doubts, and questions in hopes of being seen as Good Christians. And in so doing, we’ve formed form a collective hand over The Church’s mouth, muffling and contaminating the integrity of  her voice. Our lack of honesty continually sows seeds of Pharisaic piety, of pretense, and of hypocrisy.  This is what the world sees and responds to.

What’s sad is, we don’t put up much of a fight. We kind of go along with it, because Sunday School answers are safe. They’re perfectly fine for our church questions and conversations, in church and to church people.  We’ll save what we really think for those people and places outside the church.

But isn’t that backwards?

The church should be the place we can express our truest feelings, especially when they are the opposite of what a “Good Christian” should say. We are not in the world. We shouldn’t need to protect ourselves in church.

The  common analogies for The Church seem to be saying it’s a place more full of people who don’t have it all together than who do. When it is described as a hospital, it implies there are more sick people around than there are well people.  When described as a support group — more who need support than who don’t. One of the points in those analogies is the understanding that we are safe in Church — that we don’t have to pretend. We can let our guards down.

The sooner we accept that there are more people in the room doubting and challenging than there are people who have all the answers, the quicker we usher in an authentic environment we can all grow in. We shouldn’t succumb to the worldly pressures of saving face. We shouldn’t spend so much time pretending to be well, pretending we are not in need of support. In church, we don’t have to be on the spiritual honor roll of disingenuous, religious, A-students. We see how that worked out for the Pharisees. The elephant in the collective world room is that we are all in need of support and healing.  And deep down, we all know it. None of us have it all together. We all have doubts. There are times when our faith weakens, when we don’t even believe the Sunday School answers.

I say that’s an okay thing to admit.

I say the more honest we are, the more credible our answers. The more vulnerable we are, the more accessible we become.  The truer our speech, the louder our voice.

We don’t have to be fakers.  We don’t have to be hypocrites. We can change that perception. But it will need to be from the inside out, both for Christians individually and for churches collectively. Because if we continue down this path of dishonesty, our voice will disappear in the wind.

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Antwuan Malone is a Ministry Director at ELEVATE Young Adult Ministry (elevateministry.net) where empowers young adults toward Christian leadership. He is passionate about seeing young adults take their place in church history by drawing near enough to God to hear his call on their life, and courageously living in obedience to that call.
19 comments
PauloMcW
PauloMcW

I like this a lot. Just reading a book called "how to a bad Christian and a better human being". The two dovetail together well. Thanks for the intresting blog.

GaryMorgan
GaryMorgan

Dude...

One of the most powerful, poignant, truthful, and profound articles I have read in a long time.

ship4life
ship4life

Well done again, Antwuan! I will have to keep that in mind when I teach Sunday School to the middle schoolers this morning :)

Paul Miller
Paul Miller

Looks like a very sensible conversation.

Alan Lavender
Alan Lavender

Thankyou Antwuan for a thoughtful yet respectful call to action. I came here via twitter and I see a raging spiritual debate there on a daily basis. And nobody engaged in that debate is stupid: far from it. Where I live in Ireland our main church is largely discredited and yet I want to worship with the townspeople and traders I see every day. There is a call out for churches to self examine and evolve. Not die or be silent, but change. Well done for lending your voice. @alanceltic

reneamac
reneamac

This is exactly why I call my blog 'speak what we feel,' which is borrowed from Shakespeare's King Lear: "The weight of these sad times we must obey; / Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say." At the same time, there must be a balance. There are times when, as a friend of mine put it, "our right to speak what we feel violates the need of others not to hear these things from us." I realize you would be the first to say that if our honesty is unloving or too self-focused that we aren't really being real at all. But sometimes I worry about our generation over-correcting on the swing of the proverbial pendulum. We live in a ego-pampered, psychology-hyped culture, steeped in two generations that “talk about our feelings” and talk about everything; indeed, in (over)reaction against the generations before us who repressively talked too little, we talk too much. So again, I suggest a balance must be struck. Although ‘struck’ isn’t quite right; it implies balance can be achieved, when in actuality, we are striving in constant tension. And balance ebbs and flows; it cannot be found in one spot. It is a chase, a dance. And this striving requires humility, thoughtfullness of the other. In this dance, we trip over our partner’s feet and we trip over our own feet; we practice and we learn. With each new partner we must adjust our rhythm, learn new steps and relearn old ones. A pair dances as one, yet not at the cost of each individual’s distinction. Again, I think I know you(r writing) well enough to know you champion the relationship between truth and love. But I think the broader conversation about expressing ourselves is highly unbalanced and frankly self-centered. On a side note: "The truer our speech the louder our voice." Mmmm... maybe not. I think of the prophets, of Jeremiah who was told by God, "You will speak my truth and the people will not listen to you." Christ told his followers, "If they didn't listen to me they won't listen to you... if they reject me they will reject you." At any rate, that doesn't take away from your main point about the language politics of the church and our desperate need to let go of that desire to control.

Troyadoucet
Troyadoucet

when i say 'ridiculous' I obviously mean on the part of the skeptic, or church basher- not in the premise of your assertion, Antwuan!! :)

Troy
Troy

i would definitely agree with the amalgam of assertions here. but what i would point out are the 'standout' inferences that caught my eye: 1) Where you state that 'church bashers' don't listen to us because of our hypocrisy, etc. I too, agree only to the extent of pragmatism. Otherwise, this is an ad hominem argument- just because I am 'immoral', 'hypocritical', or 'indifferent' to that premise which I believe does not make that belief untrue. This attacks the person rather than the position. Ridiculous. 2) The problem with Sunday school answers aren't the answers in as much as they are mostly anecdotal retorts to what I believe to be major problems inherent in Christianity. This does not suffice due to the subjective nature of these responses. (God changed my life, I felt God, etc.) Most people only have their story, and a few well-meaning retorts provided by good-hearted Sunday school teachers. No many are 'packing' various philosophical arsenals, or theological insights - but again, neither or probably necessary for salvific experience.

- b
- b

A few weeks ago, a man spoke to the teenagers in our youth group, and one of the things he said to them really stuck with me. He told them, "People will tell you that because you're young, you don't understand things yet. What you're going through isn't a real problem. You don't know what it's like to grow up and face real problems." I often dismiss problems in the lives of people around me because it doesn't affect me. Or I offer a pat answer because honestly, I haven't been through anything like that, and I don't know how to relate to them. I've heard it said that we aren't physical beings having a spiritual experience, but rather spiritual beings having a physical experience. But then, why even bother with the physical at all? And so, we have to fight to reconcile who God is with who we are and what we are experiencing. Too often do I find myself content to say, "It doesn't matter." And so I miss out on the opportunity to wrestle with an experience and through it verify that I may praise God with my own life for the same things David sang praise about thousands of years ago.

Latorey
Latorey

What source does the "Sunday School answers" originate from?

@antwuanmalone
@antwuanmalone

Nice response. So much there. I have not yet exposed my particular fascination with balance (it's what I'm always asking church leaders to pray for me about), so I completely understand what you are saying. We also agree 100% on the over-reacting way most people respond to the problems they find in the church. In fact, one of the more recent examples of this is the need "move out of the church building" as it is "not the church..." and extreme reaction in my mind for sure. My motto is simple. Keep what's working, tweak what's not. So I full on agree with balance. I think the best way to achieve this balance is to learn "how" to communicate our fears, criticisms, doubts, etc... in a way that is honest and not self-centered. But trying to build this sort of community will certainly come with its own challenges (namely ego-centricity (new word) or "Ego-Christianity" as I choose to term it the book I am writing). Indeed, expressing ourselves does come with the forbidden fruit of self-centeredness. As for "the truer our speech..." I meant truth there in the sense that what we say is honest. Here, honest is the synonym for "true" as opposed to the sort of biblical truth you make reference to. It could be said "the more honest our speech, the louder our voice..." and that might better capture my point. Thanks for reading and commenting, and keep writing. Good stuff over at your blog!! (http://reneamac.com/) <-- CLICK HERE

Antwuan Malone
Antwuan Malone

1. I ABSOLUTELY agree with this statement. My inability to practice the law does not nullify that there is a law to begin with, and neither should it nullify my telling you to practice the law. To this, my friend, I agree. Ridiculous! 2. Yeah, well I agree that we are given a few good tools (anecdotes) to use as "answers" to the pop quizzes of sunday mornings or even of small groups. Perhaps there is more room for a mentoring along of personal, spiritual experience. But I don't want to go to an extreme. "Sunday School" serves a great need in the church, as does Bible Study, memorization, etc... It is the overemphasis, or better, the lack of ownership of biblical truths that lead to the inauthentic experience non-Christian experience. It is one thing to say you are going to get paid on Friday. It is quite another to plan a payment based on Friday's paycheck. Per the example, most Christians today know the pay schedule, but they don't bank on it!

Antwuan Malone
Antwuan Malone

I hear you on being spiritual beings having a physical experience. I think looking at the world can give us a peek at how God may be viewing things, and thus help us to answer some of the very difficult questions we are asked (and asking). Good comments! Thanks!

Antwuan Malone
Antwuan Malone

I hear you on being spiritual beings having a physical experience. I think looking at the world can give us a peek at how God may be viewing things, and thus help us to answer some of the very difficult questions we are asked (and asking). Good comments! Thanks!