Why-Sayers Wanted: Fearlessly Embracing the Questions

October 6th, 2009

I was in IKEA the other day and was shocked by the envy I felt. No, not the furniture envy I usually get when I go there; this time it was job envy. Their new ad campaign features a woman with IKEA's logo tattooed on her arm. The caption underneath is what made me envious:

“WE'RE HIRING WHY-SAYERS. People who want to make things better. Make things more fun. More clever. People who aren't afraid of the boss. People who aren't restricted by convention, but challenged by it. People who fit perfectly at IKEA. Because it's the why that makes us successful.”

Wow, I want that job…well, not really. I want to work at a place like that…no, that's not it either. I want the church to be a place like that.

I can't remember the last time I read a job posting on the YS Web site or any other place that asked for youth workers who weren't restricted by convention, who want to make things more fun and more clever, to come challenge the Senior Pastor and the church board to make things better.

Wouldn't that be an amazing church? Wouldn't you want to work there; wouldn't you just want to go there?

The Paradox

What happened? When did it become about “same old, same old,” “status quo,” and “my way or the highway?”

I love the church, I really do. It's a living, breathing picture of Christ's body left here for us. When it works, there's nothing like it. When it's healthy, vibrant, purposeful, and building God's Kingdom, it's one of the most incredible places on God's green earth.

I hate the church, I really do. It's sick, distorted, and a poor representation of Christ's body left here for us. When it's inward, backward, selfish, and obsessed with building its own kingdoms, it's one of the most twisted places on God's green earth.

When it doesn't work, it scars deeply and hideously—strip-mining the soul. Above every other institution on earth, the church has the means to restore life; it's a tool of God that can bring about real change and make a profound difference in our dark world. But a church left in the hands of the greedy and power hungry is a horribly damaging weapon.

What a contrast; what a paradox; what a problem. The difference between the two is based in power. What is it, where does it come from, what is its purpose, and what is it used for?

Power Reactions

I've spent a lot of my adult life living very close to power centers. In Ontario we were very close to Niagara Falls. In that part of Canada, they don't call the power supplier the “Electric Company;” they call it “Ontario Hydro.” Niagara Falls began as the source of all of the electrical power. In Western Pennsylvania we're surrounded by nuclear power plants. If there's a meltdown, we'll be among the first to know. One power source is natural and clean; the other is self-generated and causes toxic waste and disposal problems. Generations will be affected by nuclear waste and the storage of its by-products.

I look at power in the church in the same way. We have a choice: do we use the clean, natural, God-given power to enjoy an efficient, unlimited source of energy, or do we try to rely on the unnatural, self-driven power of our own efforts to generate a reaction? If we choose God's way, we sacrifice our perceptions of control and self-reliance. If we start our own reaction we have to cope with the inevitable fallout and the toxic, destructive effects that can last both in lives and churches for generations.

There's that old saying: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” How many times have I seen good, sometimes misguided, but earnest youth pastors irradiated by “no confidence” votes or senior pastors and board members with personal agendas longer than their arms?

That kind of power destroys.

The difficulty in youth ministry is that very often, if not always, youth pastors have little or no power. They're often the lowest people in their churches, and the rest of the totem pole sits squarely on top of their shoulders. The repercussions from those above affect them greatly, yet they have very little ability to effect any kind of reaction within the system.

Newton's Third Law of Motion states, “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” In other words, you can't touch without being touched. How we touch others in the church is an enormous issue. That action/reaction effect says it all—power in the church is reactive.

And the power reactions are the key. If we perceive we're getting “irradiated,” it'll help us respond if we gauge the power reactions we see in our church. We'll be able to make a good guess as to the kind of power we're contending with and respond appropriately.

Power Reaction #1: Being Right vs. Embracing the Truth

In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul is writing about power. We can see the paradox of God in the statement “…power is made perfect in weakness.” In my experience most of the churches that are off balance on the issue of power spend tons of their time trying to convince you (and everyone else) of their rightness. They repeatedly protect and defend, argue and enlist—it's all about the party-line. Substantiating and corroborating their stand on matters is of the utmost importance, even if it's just a matter of opinion.

Let me be clear, faithfulness to doctrinal orthodoxy isn't what I'm speaking of here. I'm talking about the minutiae of church life. I believe there's a vast difference between biblical heresy and theological differences of opinion. And I think there are those who are so concerned with being right that they mix up the two.

Instead of allowing the penetrating truth of God's Word to speak for itself, they feel the need to fortify some sort of defensive tower around it. There they stand, militantly ready to attack any who dare question or challenge their status quo. To them different equals dangerous. Power is artificially generated to insure the party-line beliefs aren't challenged.

Power Reaction #2: Slavery vs. Freedom

As a little girl in VBS I learned this verse (King James and all): “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made you free.” At the time, I had no idea what it meant, but it's one of my favorites now, even the “wherewith” part. Liberty was a big thought for a little girl in my church. Especially since there wasn't actually a lot of liberty to be found there.

Paul continues “and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” He warns us: “Don't go backward; it's a trap!” I like the word-picture “entangled” gives—like vines grabbing you around your feet, pulling you in. Misery loves company; and people in bondage, whether they know it or not, want you shackled right along with them.

Mike Yaconelli called them “grace police”—those who can't stand the thought of God's grace excusing the possibility of future sin. They're okay with past sin being covered by grace, but the future stuff…well, that would be too dangerous; you might get the wrong idea and end up giddy with so much freedom.

So they construct fences, big, ugly, barbed-wire fences, around rules to keep everyone far away from any area of life that might require future grace. They reason, “If people get to thinking they don't need to work harder—well, where would that leave us?” Their actions create a follow-our-rules mentality, and the result is sanctimony and Pharisee-ism.

Jesus hated these kinds of reactionaries; he argued with them continually. They always tried to trip him up, and he consistently saw past their motives into their empty souls and their lonely fear. This kind of policing brings slavery.

Power Reaction #3: Death vs. Life

A professor at the Bible College I attended used to say (ostensibly tongue in cheek) “Well you know, we are allowed to be a bit cocky; we are right after all.” Joke or no, this attitude characterizes an abuse of power that sucks the life out of everything it touches. Cocksure absolutism, the notion that we have it all figured out, is the howling cry of a dying faith. In truth, it's no faith at all.

Churches in this vein pay lip-service to the mystical realities of the Christian faith. In turn they act like they have life, love, and heaven all figured out. As if they alone have been able to sift through the great sea of study the Bible has elicited through the centuries, and identified all of the right interpretations fit for your consumption. It's feigned surety in areas about which we were never meant to be sure. These wizened and bitter churches can't endure or maintain growth through attraction, only through making the rest of Christianity look like heretics: “They're almost as Christian as we are.”

This kind of attitude divides, kills, and destroys. And it's based solely in fear. What if all of our intellect still can't figure it all out, just can't make sense of it all? What if we don't have answers to the unanswerable questions?

I love the fact that Jesus was a tease. He told stories and spoke in parables. Though he certainly gave us lots of answers, he didn't give simple answers to all of the questions. He answered questions with more questions, and created more questions than he resolved. He left out a lot of the good stuff. Stuff I personally think we need to know. That makes me love him even more. That he didn't just come, hand out talking points, and leave says something about what he was after. Jesus left mystery; he left questions without answers. He left us to wonder, think, and imagine.

When people in power act like they have all the answers, questions become invalid and God is made to seem ineffective and unnecessary. When we don't have the answers those in power tell us we should have, they look like they're beyond contravention and the asker is simply weak of mind and faith. The very thing they are trying to accomplish, i.e. having all the answers, makes God distant, capricious, and fickle.

The Power of the Question

True power gives life when it says “the question is more important than the answer.” The answer will come in time. God's power says, “I love you, and your questions are important to me—come and talk with me about them.” It's about relationship, not rules.

Like a joke where you already know the punch line, people get disinterested and ultimately bored with all the answers. Mystery is powerful. It's about the journey, not the arrival. Yes, our destination is clear, but it's about our life, mortal and eternal. The light God sheds on our heart's path speaks to both. It's about the process as well as the product. Life-giving power reaffirms us and our questions. It also reaffirms God. Much is left to the imagination, and that's okay.

Why-sayers—people who aren't afraid of the boss. That's really what it's about. It's the difference between being in a church where questions are okay, and being in a church where there must be an answer, a fix, a position—or else. One is based in fear; the other is based in love.

Because it's the “why” that makes us successful.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.