Monday, April 30, 2012

Look Twice: Mirror, Mirror

One of the most difficult aspects of "looking twice" (or being a Berean), is the ability -- and the willingness -- to look in the mirror and ask God to "see if there is any offensive way in me". (Psalm 139:23-24)

Back in the day of Miami Vice, New Wave music, and omnipresent synthesizers (sometimes referred to as the Dark Ages), while I was in Bible college, I chanced one day upon an article in Moody Monthly (now discontinued) entitled "Eight Sure-Fire Marks of a Cult". Since I was taking a class on cults that very semester, and had a research paper to write for it, I sat down in our school library to read through what the article had to say.

Maybe it's just me, but sometimes when I read these kind of articles, my mind goes to unexpected places. As the article expounded on various items, only a few of which I can still recall a quarter century later, a thought occurred to me:


This article was focused primarily on the methodology of cults; it was almost completely a study in manipulation and mob mentality.

And I couldn't help but notice that some Christian ministries that I was aware of could easily be accused of using the same techniques.
So, I wrote a paper for my cults class on "Cultic Aspects of Evangelical Groups". (Note to self: if you are ever feeling over-looked or ignored at Bible college, let it leak out that you're writing a paper exploring cultic tendencies of "us", instead of "them".)

My basic thesis was that, as Christians who believe in the power of God, our methodology in ministry should be completely above reproach. If what we believe really is The Truth, then we need no gimmicks, no sleight-of-hand trickery, and definitely not even a hint of manipulation in our methodology.

Some people -- those who actually read what I wrote -- understood what I was getting at; the professor gave me an "A" on it. Others were so offended by the title of the paper that they couldn't hear properly whenever the topic came up over lunch.

This new emphasis on being "above reproach" in ministry methods was beautifully reinforced during my years as a youth pastor on Vancouver Island. And the concerned parents of the many non-Christian teenagers who frequented our group (about 60% during our first two years) were probably my best resource for looking twice in the mirror of our youth ministry.

They would ask questions about how we structured our bi-annual weekend retreats, such as:
  • Will the teenagers be kept up with so many crazy activities that they get no rest (sleep deprivation)?
  • Will there be constant, non-stop programming, or will there be a normal-life's pace?
  • Will they be fed well?
  • Will there be an emotional, late-night fire-side love-bombing session?
I loved that they were asking me these questions: it was a golden opportunity to look at a typical youth retreat from an "outsider's" perspective. Together with the youth leaders, we committed ourselves to being "above reproach" in our youth retreats.

We were actually pretty militant about everyone getting enough sleep. We scheduled "break times" to make sure people weren't running 1,000 miles an hour for the whole weekend. We made our meals together into extended times of hanging out; they weren't "feeding stations before the next activity" -- table fellowship was the "activity".

We continued to have sharing times, but there was no fire. No dim lighting. No late-night. In fact, our new tradition was to have a time of debriefing, right after supper, in a fluorescent-lit, aesthetically butt-ugly room. No hype. No gimmicks. No ambiance. We created no artificial "worship experiences". Various leaders would share from the Bible; no grandiose hype-em-up intensity. We prayed for each other. We encouraged each other.


Some of my best memories of seeing God working in the lives of these teenagers happened during these weekends.

Because at the end of it, there was no doubt in anyone's mind, that "God did it".

Looking twice -- choosing to exercise discernment, following the example of the Bereans -- also includes looking at ourselves in the mirror. It will only serve to improve us.

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