While away on a family vacation this past week Jen and I spent many hours standing together watching our kids play in the snow. They rolled around in it for hours laughing and playing. Yet without fail, the fun was always followed by the cold and wet feeling that leaves them ready to get inside and eat some warm soup. Jen and I stood by, dignified adults that we are, in our warm coats and jeans. We had no intention of getting in that cold wet stuff, but often our defense against the cold and wet was overcome by a desire to jump on the sled and go barreling down the mountain with our kids. God spoke to me many times this past week as he was renewing my heart for the things he has called me to be, to do, and to lead. My defenses against snow got me thinking about the defenses I am seeing against the moving of God in the people who check out Disciples Church.
In our journey with people who are far from God and His church there are dozens, if not hundreds, of defense mechanisms we encounter. From relational distancing to partial truths and from extreme privacy to wild unedited authenticity. But of all the defenses we see from people with real pain towards people, God or church there is one that we (ok, me) as leaders are ignoring all too often: cynicism. “What?!” you ask. “Cynicism is a defense mechanism?” Yes, I come in contact with people every week who are deeply cynical towards people, God and church. People who have their horror stories and their wounds they wear like badges of honor. These church cynics use their scars from former experiences in a church to predict, often with uncanny accuracy, when their current church will show a dark side of empty mission, unadulterated greed or spiritual narcissism.
Now for some of us, we begin to sense someone’s cynicism and we just chuckle with them at their biting statement or snide joke, writing it off as nothing. For others of us we hear a person’s cynicism enough that we unfortunately write them off completely as just being immature. Neither of these responses help our new friend or the mission of the church we lead. While admittedly their cynicism is an immature and counterproductive defense, it is still just that, a defense. What we are seeing on the surface is a cry for help. A cry for answers. A cry for something real. As leaders, we are not afforded the luxury of simply laughing off the comment or writing off the cynic. We are leaders, for God’s sake! -really.
So when a new person enters the community of Disciples Church but spouts off early and often their own cynicism for the church, its leaders and its form, I am learning to fight my initial response. Yes, these are people who need to grow up a bit, but isn’t Church the perfectly ordained place to…grow up? Our response as leaders needs to be one of listening intently, knowing that this is a person who cares deeply for the church, its leaders and its form, afterall they’re here aren’t they? Church cynics are looking for a reason to believe The Church is still the only hope this world has to walk with Jesus as he designed us to walk with him. Cynics may even appear to be gathering evidence for their final indictment, and while that may be true in some cases, our best efforts in connecting people far from God and his church with Christ and community begin with understanding they care deeply for this bride of Christ. They want to believe, that’s why they’re here.
Let’s be leaders who listen well, and when the Holy Spirit nudges let’s be relentless in offering a cynic opportunities to adore God, make disciples and serve the hurting and poor. Let’s fight the urge to over-embrace their immaturity or even write these cynics off as lost causes. Let us instead be ever-mindful that cynics matter deeply to God and God has gifted us with their engagement with Disciples Church. If they had given up, they would not be here. They are looking for a reason to believe, to serve, to change the world. As a leader, who will you listen to this week? Who will you offer opportunities to this week?