At the moment, I don’t recall who coined the saying, “it’s not what’s taught, it’s what’s caught.” However, it has stuck with me since early in my spiritual walk. The idea is that, particularly in a church setting, the leadership might verbally teach all the right things, but at a less conscious level the audiences learns, or “catches” other things; that the day and time you gather to worship matters, that dressing nice matters, that having “pastor” before your name, or “M. Div.” after it matters, that the seating configuration matters, that micro-size servings of bread and grape juice matter… the list goes on.
Now, I do want to clarify that I am a proponent of Jesus’ people functioning together to bless God, each other, and everyone else they come in contact with. The language I like to use is “a functioning body”. It is organic and dynamic; a movement, not a monument. There is leadership, but it’s built on function, not title.
Again, leadership is about function, not titles. One needs to ask, “What is the leadership producing?” It ought to be producing the next generation of leaders. Two challenges that can occur are, 1. the current leadership is not making room for new leaders to rise, or 2. the current leadership is so good, or at least stable, that the people they lead are comfortable and not particularly motivated to step up. I think the latter is the more common pattern in churches. That, and I think a lot of people don’t feel worthy to lead. What they catch from the system is that those other people are special. The church ought to have unity, but we’re sort of afraid of each other. People are sort of expecting the pastor to behave perfectly, and the pastor is probably conscious of that expectation, so they’re putting up a front out of fear of damaging the credibility of their faith, but wait, if the pastor is the example, then people start following that example, and don’t want to offend or disappoint their example, and then pretty soon, everybody’s putting up a front. There’s a lot of unconscious dissonance happening.
On that note, when you’re in a church building, it may also be helpful to divorce your heart from the seating arrangement. We have a whole bunch of people, sometimes standing, but mostly seated, (the space is designed for sitting), all facing the front, where there is a smaller group of people doing music or, there’s one person up there teaching, and then behind them there’s a wall with a big cross on it. Have you ever wondered, “what’s the best thing to be looking at, or the best direction to be looking toward when doing something that is considered an act of worship?” Maybe it’s no big deal, but maybe it creates tangled unconscious associations to have your mouth saying “God” while your body is pointed toward a special person, a special group of people, and a wall with a big cross on it; like, what if having your body pointed toward those people and things makes them special in your unconscious. What if all the music people and teachers were behind the congregation and there was no wall to look at? Maybe your eyes wouldn’t have any place to settle short of God’s glory and presence.
Don’t have a nervous breakdown or start making weird legalisms about it, but prayer can be physiologically confusing, too. Sometimes, the tradition of bowing the head seems like the bane of prayer. It is true that many cultures use some kind of bowing gesture to indicate respect and/or submission. I get that; submitting to God. Also, I can see where bowing your head and closing your eyes could help eliminate distractions. However, I often wonder how optimal it is, feeling like, ‘Bow your head because you’re defeated and close your eyes because you don’t expect to see anything happen.’ I had a really out-of-the-box thought: if Christ lives in me, and also in you, what if I prayed like I was having a conversation with you? I’d be facing you, making eye contact, using normal conversational gestures, but talking to God. Maybe it would be really weird. Maybe it would be really powerful, in part because you’re bringing your body into line with what your mind consciously knows about God’s presence; Him dwelling in us.
What’s my point? Get free. Christ freed you, man. Two words here: salvation and repentance. I recently heard a good description of the language behind the word “salvation”; it means ‘nothing missing, nothing broken’. Be wholly saved. Repentance has to do with changing your way of thinking. It’s a system change.
We are wonderfully made. Because of this, our thoughts, feelings, and experiences are significant. Consequently, belief is a rich system built on more than just words. I am excited to say more about this subject later.