Recently, I heard a local pastor share a thought which impacted me:
He said that when he was a kid in a church youth group, the leader of the group told him and all the other boys to stay away from girls. Don't talk to them, don't look at them. This was done in the name of helping to protect the boys from getting caught in a trap of lust.
For anyone who was once a teenage boy, you're probably shaking your head, either laughing, or getting angry. Trying to teach a teenage boy not to lust is like trying to train cats to pull a dogsled in the iditarod. You will literally die before you succeed.
But leaders of church youth groups sometimes have a success metric that looks like this: I have to keep the kids in my group away from sex, drinking and drugs. Doing that means I'm succeeding, otherwise I am failing. It's a terrible metric for several reasons, but I'm getting off on a tangent.
This pastor explained a problem that developed out of this guidance to avoid girls: all the boys who respected leadership and wanted to honor God listened and avoided girls like they were putting out weapons grade cooties. So guess which boys were the only ones who paid attention to the girls and talked to them? Did you guess “the boys who didn't give a crap about what some youth leader said?” Because if you said that, you'd be right.
So the girls had a choice - sit around and be lonely, or hang out with guys who probably didn't have the best of intentions since there was no desire to balance the call of raging hormones against a desire to honor God with their actions.
This pastor, being a sharp kid, realized what was happening. It was a lose-lose-lose situation.
The "good boys" were isolated and grew socially awkward.
The "bad boys" didn't have to treat girls very well to get what they wanted.
The girls had to choose between being treated like prey or being ignored.
So today, this pastor asks "good, church going boys" NOT to ignore girls. Instead, he asks them to view them as sisters. To respect, honor, cherish and protect them.
Some boys will still only be trying to get something for themselves, but it'll be more difficult if a girl's self esteem has been raised by other boys treating them with respect.
I loved what he had to say.
If we are worried about unhealthy relationships, proposing a solution of having NO relationships is lazy, foolish and ultimately harmful. We must be willing to seek how Jesus points us to having healthier relationships.
If we are worried about unhealthy relationships, proposing a solution of having NO relationships is lazy, foolish and ultimately harmful.
Jesus always wants us to have a better, healthier, fuller life than what we would choose for ourselves. I’m talking spiritually, emotionally, relationally healthier - I’m no prosperity guy.
When dealing with dysfunctional situations, I think the answer for a Christian should never to be turning a blind eye or a deaf ear.
Now, that being said, my regular readers may recall a recent post where I shared my decision to disengage from the American political process.
Without getting totally sidetracked, here’s why I don’t think I’m talking from both sides of my mouth: there’s a big difference between disengaging from a system and disengaging from people. I am friends with several local politicians and have been very pleased to work with them in community events over the past several years.
I didn’t understand this dynamic of disengagement with systems but not people when I left church for a few years after encountering some jerks who happened to be pastors. Fortunately, I now understand that the church really isn’t about a system, but rather about relationships.
Despite a recent situation in a church where I was again negatively affected by the actions of one leader, I’m grateful that in the age of social media, I can maintain relationships formed over several years. I can let the system be broken and unhealthy without it affecting my engagement with fellow Christ followers. And honestly, when I disengaged in previous problem situations, nothing got better, so why would I want to choose that route instead?
Let me be very clear: I'm not saying that I must stay connected to people who are negatively impacting me. I'm saying that "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" is an unhealthy response to the actions of one person or a small number of people.
Disengagement with people should only occur in extreme situations, when greater harm than good will come out of the relationship. Even then, we can pray for the other person/people. That is also a form of engagement.
As Christine Cain recently said, Christians should be the most relationally functional people on planet earth.
Christians should be the most relationally functional people on planet earth. ~ Christine Cain
This is because Jesus is pretty clear that our purpose in this life is to engage, connect and build community.
And after calling us to do this, we find out that the Holy Spirit is available to transform us into people capable of fulfilling this calling.
Now let’s get this down to a practical level. When I find myself dealing with dysfunction in a relationship, I ask myself, “How can I bring something healthier to the table than what is here already?”
I don’t have to be perfect, I just have to try to leave things better through my engagement. And when I completely fail and totally screw up, it means I don’t pack it in and give up. I accept my failings, I accept the forgiveness and grace offered to me by God, and I look for the next opportunity to engage.
It’s not our job to be the morality police or to criticize others. We follow a savior who came not to condemn the world, but to save it!
The only way we can be part of that good plan is if we’re willing to be involved in the lives of others, messy and imperfect as we all are.
So look for ways to contribute, engage and connect wherever you happen to be in life - in your family, at your workplace, in your church - anywhere you have been given the privilege of influence. For it is only by engaging with this world that we can be part of the solution instead of creating more problems.
Here's just a few quick thoughts that I've already brought up in this article:
1. Always look for healthy ways to engage people. Create the kind of culture you wish existed. Pulling away should be a last resort.
2. If you do have to pull away, pray for those who have wronged you. The way you want somebody to pray for you when you screw up. This is certainly a form of staying engaged.
3. Use the tools of social media to stay connected to people who had nothing to do with wronging you. In years past, leaving a church meant people just wondered about what happened to you, and would only hear one side of the story. That's not the case today.