Questioning Country Club Christianity

One of my greatest struggles is balancing my public and personal personas. On one hand, I am an expert in the field of intimacy, and on the other, I am just a girl. One moment I am dispensing advice on the radio, TV or to a live audience, and the next I am making lunches, helping with homework and chatting with a friend. I have worked very hard to develop both my career and my relationships, but some days, especially when I feel like I am screwing up more than usual, the dichotomy between the two worlds becomes very painful. Who am I to speak about being kind to one another when I want to stuff those horrible words I uttered back in my mouth? Who am I to talk about balance when I can’t hear what my daughter is telling me because I am too absorbed with work? Who am I to talk about the wonders of marriage when Eric and I just had a knock-down drag out…on the way to the marriage conference?

In those moments of feeling like a complete fraud and failure, I realize that I am not alone. I remember the pastor’s wife who felt like she would get kicked out of the church if anyone found out that she loved Harlequin romances, the Marriage Ministry pastor who hated sex and lived like roommates with her husband, the youth leader who felt forever tainted because of a little action in the back seat of a car when she was a teenager, the elder who struggled daily with a porn addiction, and the pastor’s wife who was in love with another woman. There are other people who struggle with their public and personal realities as well. We all just do it in secret.

Sometime over the past 2000+ years, we have drifted into a country club type of Christianity. We have to show up perfectly polished and radiant. We have to look good. We have to be successful. We have to be winning the battle. Sin? Sure, that’s something that I deal with…but not often…and I gain victory over it quickly. Church is very rarely a place where you can be anything other than the public persona. Did you just find out that your husband has been cheating on you? Did you just get let go from work? Did you scream at your kids on the drive? Then put happy smiles on your faces as you walk through the door because you are going to worship Jesus.

And yet, the Jesus I read about hung out with the tainted, the screw-ups, the outsiders, and the unwanted. He had endless compassion for the people who came to him with the realization that they didn’t have it all together. In fact, the only people who pissed him off were the religious folks who, well, refused to acknowledge anything but their public personas. So why do we work so diligently to hide our sin when the church should be a place of refuge for all of us who realize how deeply broken we really are? Why do we feel the need – in our ministries and public lives – to have everything figured out, all the time?

I don’t have it together all the time. In fact, probably not even most of the time. But I also have a deeply held belief that I cannot lead other people places I myself fear to tread. If I refuse to acknowledge or examine the difficult, the scary, the thorny, the inconvenient, the ugly, and the broken parts of myself, and I am the “expert,” then what hope can I offer to the “broken” people who show up in my office?

The simple and tidy answer that the “Christian expert” would offer is, of course, I offer the hope of Jesus. And while there is truth to that – I grew up an evangelical, singing the lines, Jesus is the answer for the world today – I know that life is rarely simple and tidy. I think it’s disingenuous of us to offer up the trite “Jesus is the answer” when Jesus rarely answered questions directly when he was walking on the earth. He liked to remain silent, to tell stories or to respond with a question.

Somewhere along the line, we became afraid of questions and started worshiping the answers. Jesus camped out in the questions. I believe we will still find him there today. Because when we walk naked into the questions, we have stripped away our façade, our arrogance and our pretense, and have become those whom Jesus said he was sent to. “It is not the healthy who need a physician but the sick. But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

So after all the training, all the studying, and all the years of “becoming an expert,” what I can offer is exactly what I need myself: compassion, empathy and understanding. It is from this place that Jesus still works miracles.

4 replies
  1. Christian Facade Sympethizer
    Christian Facade Sympethizer says:

    Just had a similar conversation this week with someone regarding this very same topic. Never did come to a personal resolution about the dichotomy (or perhaps hypocrisy) that I feel as one who serves in a pastoral ministry context.

    I like your answer, “What we offer is exactly what we need ourselves.” Perhaps that what makes us “good” at our jobs/ministry efforts because we’re willing to be honest, vulnerable, and introspective.

    I think the dichotomy truly becomes a problem when we allow shame, secrets and ego to influence our decisions and activities instead.
    I *think* if I were to be truly honest, the “bad” me is who I would say is the “real” me and not the persona I generally exhibit in Christian circles. Perhaps this feeling is attributed to the sin problem? Specifically I relate to Paul’s confusing rant about “I do what I don’t want to do and don’t do what I should do…” (paraphrase of Romans 7:13-20).

    Carey Nieuwhof of Connexus church provided some valuable advice on this type of internal struggle. He mentions how pastors or people in any public ministry need to be able to process privately (i.e. with a counsellor, confidant, etc.) so they can perform publicly (that “perform” word may be another paraphrase, but I’m sure that words starts with a “p”). Nonetheless, it’s good advice.

  2. JEM
    JEM says:

    Scripture says that truth sets us free. The tension between public and private lives will always be with us. At least for ourselves we can find trustworthy friends who will understand our faults and weaknesses and still love us. The sad fact is that many people cannot be set free because they are not able to see the truth in themselves. Living in a denial bubble causes terrible mental illness. This is just my opinion but I’ve seen it played out over and over. Really good article!

  3. Heather
    Heather says:

    Brilliantly written. What freedom can be found in not hiding and creating false personas. You lead the way well, my friend.

  4. Carol Geisler
    Carol Geisler says:

    There is a band I listen to a lot, Over The Rhine. A favourite for about twenty years now, mostly because their music and especially the lyrics are brilliant, and are about life as it’s lived – not the neat and tidy ‘country club’ version. Listening earlier today, a song of theirs, Nothing Is Innocent, struck me ask relevant to this topic. In the artists words, the song “will hopefully help give people permission not to live in fear.”
    I’m sorry I don’t have a direct link, but you can listen to it (and all their music) on their site. From http://overtherhine.com/albums/the-trumpet-child click the arrow on track 4, Nothing Is Innocent, to play. You can find lyrics (worth reading) at the bottom of the page by clicking the 4 box.

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