The following blog post was first published at The Village Church blog.
Our church has just started a short sermon series titled Balance, and it is a much-needed topic today.
Our culture today is filled with extremism, and the trends do not seem to be slowing down. Many groups or organizations used to be more broad, more diverse, and more balanced, but they are now becoming more narrow, more monolithic, and more extreme.
This is debatably true of modern political parties. Over the past few decades, the two major political parties in America have been becoming less moderate and more extreme, and as a result, many people who feel like they do not fit in have been quietly leaving those parties. In fact, a 2016 Pew Research article stated, “The share of independents in the United States stands at its highest point in more than 75 years of public opinion polling.”
Why do some people leave political parties when those political parties become more and more extreme? Because the people are not as extreme as those political parties. This phenomenon points to an important principle: groups are often more extreme than individuals.
Individuals, on their own, are much more nuanced. They are a mixture of values and opinions. They are, in a word, balanced. However, when many individuals come together for a cause, then they start to become less nuanced. They start to clearly define specific values and opinions, and they start to draw lines and boundaries. They start to classify certain people as good guys and other people as bad guys. They start to lose their balanced nature and become extreme. And over time, if that group becomes too extreme, then some individuals will realize that they do not fit in anymore, and they will leave.
What is true of political parties is also true of churches. Today it is common for churches to be more extreme than the people in those churches. It is common for churches to draw lines and boundaries, even though the people in those churches don’t see those lines and boundaries. It is common for churches to classify certain people as good guys and other people as bad guys, even though the people in those churches don’t see them that way. And to be clear, a lot of this is good and necessary. It is healthy for a church to be clear about its values and stances, and part of the church’s responsibility is to define for the individual what the individual has not yet defined.
However, if churches are not careful, they may unintentionally find themselves overemphasizing certain values and underemphasizing other values.
In our sermon series, we are highlighting what we believe to be three necessary components of a healthy church: robust orthodoxy, compassionate community, and intentional mission. The reason why we chose these three components is because we have often seen churches that have overemphasized one at the expense of another. In other words, they have become extreme. Instead of having a balanced perspective of the three, they have heavily prioritized one over the other two, so much so that they even look down on churches that have different priorities.
For example, a church may be strong in robust orthodoxy but weak in intentional mission. Such a church may have very carefully worded doctrinal teachings, but it may be an uncomfortable or confusing environment for a non-Christian trying to learn about the faith. Another church may be strong in intentional mission but weak in compassionate community. Such a church may be a place where non-Christians are brought in through the doors all the time, but many feel that they are saved only so that they can be used to bring in others, and they experience a lack of genuine care. Still another church may be strong in compassionate community but weak in robust orthodoxy. Such a church may frequently have social gatherings, but although the participants experience plenty of fun and “fellowship,” they do not regularly and intentionally challenge one another to grow in truth.
When churches value one component at the expense of others, two things happen. Firstly, they inevitably start to look down on other churches that have different priorities. “Don’t go to that church. They’re always talking about social justice.” “Don’t go to that church. That church never cares about the neighborhood it’s located in.” “Don’t go to that church. They’re always functioning in their ivory towers.”
And secondly, people will start to leave those churches. Whether a church prides itself in being a biblical truth church, a loving family church, or a missional discipleship church, if those aspects are overemphasized at the expense of other values, then some people who want to live a balanced Christian life will find themselves becoming Christian independents–they will drop out of church altogether.
We of course don’t have everything figured out. We have plenty of ways to improve. But our goal is to be a church for the balanced Christian–a Christian who loves the truth, who loves his/her brothers and sisters, and who loves the lost.