Monday, August 1, 2011

Embrace Acceptance and Accountability

"I've got to go buy a modest swimsuit just for summer camp."

"Quit cussing, we're at church right now!"

"Shhh, he's a pastor, you probably shouldn't tell that joke, he'll hear it."

My students make these statements all the time. Whether it's the remarkable different language they'll use in the church building or the types of jokes they won't tell with the pastor around, they feel an obligation to live a bit more moralistic. Maybe they think I'll tattle on them to God, like I'm his personal moral police. I also have students calling or texting me, asking if I'm at the church as if I live there. "Of course he's at the church; he's the pastor."

These statements reveal a sad ongoing cultural trend: living by faith is relegated to a certain time, location, and in proximity to pastors. Students have a compartmentalized spirituality. It's the Sunday-morning Christianity that doesn't affect the other 6 days of the week. "I will follow Jesus for 90 minutes on Sunday morning and during small groups and for summer camps, but the rest of my life is just that--my life." This strikes me as deeply inauthentic and incoherent, but its effects are nonetheless widespread and often unchecked.

What's to be done? On the one hand, many churches have handled this by becoming overtly moralistic, fostering an almost-Christian culture of niceness. Don't drink, don't dance, don't date girls who do, etc. Let's keep things prim and proper. And if you rock the boat or fall into sin...well, go enjoy your hellish backsliding on your own.

On the other hand, as a reaction to the moralistic Christianity, many other churches appear to have a "come as you are" culture of whateverism. We're not perfect here, and we don't expect you to be either. We openly share about our sin, and it feels so cathartic to be authentic. You got drunk, cheated on your girlfriend, and got the other girl pregnant? Bummer. Need a hug?

Let's move beyond moralism and whateverism. Let's embrace the tension between acceptance and accountability, the beautiful union of grace and truth. It's like the two strands of a powerful braided rope, strengthening one another the closer they are intertwined. I think I heard Mark Batterson say it this way:
"Grace says I'll love you no matter what. Truth says I'll be honest with you and hold you accountable no matter what."
If students knew that they were accepted for who they are and held accountable for their actions, I wonder what would happen to those compartmentalized spiritual walls. To feel accepted and genuinely loved satisfies one of the deepest desires of our hearts. To be held accountable for our actions and attitudes allows us to become better people. This kind of culture requires a humble leadership who is willing to enter into people's messy lives outside of the church building and church events, an authentically lived-out faith in everyday life. It requires embracing both acceptance and accountability, living in the tension. We naturally tend to drift towards one or the other; living with both takes patience and Spirit-given wisdom.

Do you see this kind of compartmentalized spirituality? And which do you lean towards--acceptance or accountability?

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