Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zones
• Very often, Believers are driven by outcomes [“X-number of people added to Sunday School each month”; “memorized conversational openings to get your high school friends to come to church and be saved”; etc.], but frequently remain ignorant of the “theory” underlying those outcomes or the “why” actions are taken and certain outcomes are sought. As a high school student, I knew what outcomes were vital: i.e., preaching the gospel to my friends (of which I had none since they all avoided me), getting a person saved, bringing an unsaved person to a special evangelistic meeting on a Wednesday night — these were all outcomes which were greatly important to the elders and the minister and therefore important to me… but I had no theory for my trying to achieve these outcomes, no why.
“Get them saved” on the surface sounds like a “why” to go after my fellow students, but it’s superficial. What’s the theory or the why underlying my actions? After all, what exactly is “salvation”? Why is a person “saved” because they follow the steps into which I direct them [“Let’s just bow our heads right now and you pray with me; just repeat the words I say: ‘Lord Jesus, for too long I’ve kept you out of my life. I know that I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself. No longer will I close the door when I hear you knocking. By faith I gratefully receive your gift of salvation. I am ready to trust you as my Lord and Savior. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth. I believe you are the Son of God who died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead on the third day. Thank you for bearing my sins and giving me the gift of eternal life. I believe your words are true. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, and be my Savior. Amen’.”]
Why does saying this “save” a person? Is there magic in these words? On one hand, the minister says that if you pray this prayer, you’re “saved”, but on the side, if you ask “Do these particular words ‘save’ a person” the answer is “No.” Is there power in saying the Prayer or isn’t there?
In my Baptist denomination, I had to persuade this “newly saved” person to come on a particular Sunday night (when the baptismal is filled with warm water — mine was cold) and be baptized. This is a specific outcome I’m reaching for in “saving” this high school student, but is it part of his “salvation”? Does the baptismal “confirm” or “complete” or “finish” his “salvation”?
And if, in God’s eyes, water baptism somehow secures a person’s salvation, does that mean Quakers aren’t saved since they don’t do water baptism? If so, why not?
This is why I say that frequently, Believers are driven by outcomes (specified by their religious group) without any “why?” — they have no understanding of the theory underlying their actions.
• Something’s missing and I call it inquiry thinking. Fairly small groups gather for discussion, composed of a mix of older Believers and younger, and Believers from different religious streams, in order to provide opportunity for inquiry thinking. Such groups are a powerful tool for the inquiring Believer. A group must be composed of emotionally safe people who can allow various members to safely offer their contrary beliefs, biases, their prejudices and differences as they together reflect on the theories underlying the outcomes they’ve been taught to pursue.
The group atmosphere must be calm and respectful, as a powerful event will be taking place in the group’s activity: some of the members will find some their trusted beliefs, teachings, rituals and so forth, disrupted by what they discover through those others who are in some way different from themselves.
There’s a terrible practice in most churches today described by a particular term: echo chamber. The term — echo chamber — comes from an acoustic echo chamber which can happen in various buildings or canyons and such. Someone in a group shouts something like, “Hello!” and everyone heres another “Hello!”. Nowadays, the word “echo chamber” is often used metaphorically to describe a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are”echoed”, amplified, and reinforced by others who share a defined situation.
Like a news room in which there are many reporters, editors, secretaries and so on, scurrying busily about to prepare the news. Lets imagine that everyone in the room is of one political party and everyone shares the same biases. This busy room would be metaphorically an “echo chamber”. Some news flash comes across the Associated Press wires and everyone is aghast that some congressman would say what he said, and there’d be a buzz of conversations, with everyone “echoing” the same, biased perspective on that news flash.
Then, imagine the same situation, but the news room is filled with people who are entirely the opposite political party. Some news flash comes across the Associated Press wires and everyone is suddenly shouting with glee, certain that what the congressman did would truly change something important in Washington. And in that situation, everyone would be echoing each others presumptions, expectations, biases, &c.
The best solution would be to fill the news room with people who seriously had differing political persuasions, who could argue out the AP news flash, and try to come up with an honestly, unbiased news report. I don’t know if this kind of newsroom exists anywhere. But the point of the above two examples is to explain what an “echo chamber” is.
Now, Like those news rooms, lets imagine we’re looking at a local assembly of Believers. Generally, probably 90% or more of the people agree on the basic teachings and actions of the church. Probably most pursue pretty much the same goals and outcomes and hold to the same doctrinal biases as everyone else. This church, with its pews partially filled would be metaphorically an “echo chamber”.
The preacher shouts out, “And we’re the one called out to be Children of God!” and from the congregation, several people say “Amen” or “Hallelujah” or “Preach it brother!”
The churches — throughout America — are mostly echo chambers. And if there are areas in that church — practices in behavior, focused outcomes, spiritual teachings — that need to be disrupted to allow God to make some changes. If you don’t believe me, then you believe every church is already perfect — but I submit that there’s not one church in America that doesn’t need to be disrupted by God and remolded in some degree by the Hands of Jesus.
If a few people decide that they’ll try putting together a small and diverse group of people to explore together not what outcomes they want but what theories underlie their beliefs and actions — and are prepared for God to do a little disruption in their spiritual lives, here’s a brief dialogue between a couple of professors who have some thoughts on the process of finding one’s life to some degree disrupted.
- What’s your advice to those who are just coming out of their comfort zones — experiencing disruption of old ways of thinking and acting?
• I would advise them to just have fun! When people gather together and simply learn from each other, there’s no exam, no grading system and therefore nothing of that nature to fear. Come and relax — no worry about taking excellent notes!
• What about the group setting helps this process?
• Well, in various ways we’ll be interacting, working together at times, variously encountering or even depending on one another — and in this group we can hear who each of us are and become knowledgeable as well as comfortable with this interaction.
Quote from Eleanor Roosevelt for those who truly try the group method mentioned above:
Great minds discuss ideas.
Average minds discuss events.
Small minds discuss people.
When your small group meets, are you discussing people? (personal testimonies)
When your small group meets, are you discussing events? (Bible verses)
When your small group meets, are you discussing ideas? (theory)
Nothing wrong with any of these, but is your group stuck on only one level — or even two levels? In fact, the first two levels can occur in a 10–15 minute period, leaving a good 80–90 minutes for investigating theory.