It’s Never as Easy as One, Two, Three
I read a lot of blogs and magazine articles by Christian authors, and I appreciate how much I learn from them. Sometimes these authors clarify an issue or a point of doctrine. Sometimes they give an opinion I don’t agree with, and I have to think about why. Often, they encourage me. It really is an amazing age that the Church is living in. And yet, there are pitfalls to watch for.
A trend I’ve noticed in the Christian magazine and blogging world is articles titled something like this:
- "Ten Things Pastors Can Do to Increase Giving"
- "Four Steps to a Productive Personal Quiet Time"
- "Six Strategies for Getting People to Serve"
- "Three Indicators You Should Leave Your Church"
Personally, I’m drawn to articles like this. I’m a self-proclaimed structure-fiend and list-maker. But I think there are some dangers in articles like this. As the Church continues to navigate the Information Age, we need to be prayerful, discerning readers who read with an eye toward the gospel.
It’s Never Really That Simple
The first pitfall involves the oversimplifying of issues. Whether you’re a pastor helping a congregation wrestle with the idol of money, a church body that needs to be motivated, or an individual making the difficult decision to leave a church, it’s never as simple as list-style articles make it seem. There are always more factors and details than the writer could ever convey. Will the writer give you some things to consider? Yes. But is what they wrote all you should consider? No. We must read them with an eye for oversimplification.
We Don’t Just Follow Rules
List-style articles can also give the impression that all we have to do is follow the rules and avoid all the snares, and nothing messy will happen in our lives or our churches. The author may not intend to promise such easy results, but our desire for rule-books and results can get the better of us. Part of my own sanctification process is learning that God doesn’t love me more because I did all the right things and kept all my messiness in check. His love for me is not conditioned by my performance, and his sovereign hand may bring hard challenges even after I’ve followed the rules.
People Are Not Projects
A third pitfall in the list approach is the way we might be influenced to view people as a result. Articles written in this style tend to make me want to start checking boxes. Is my pastor doing X, Y, and Z for missions? Is our congregation giving X amount of dollars based on our size? Did I follow all the steps for having that perfect quiet time? Check! Check! Check! Woo hoo! But when we think in terms of checklists, we often make people into projects. We start thinking about how we can fix them or get more results from them rather than about how we can love them. Jesus loves his church--from the collective Church spread throughout the world, to local congregations, down to each individual. None of them can be boiled down to a simple project. Thankfully, our good God does not treat us as projects but as his beloved children. He is a patient and loving Father, not a demanding project manager.
Finding a Balance
So, how do we balance our reading of to-do list articles?
We remember the gifts that God has already given us and the transforming power of the gospel rather than prioritizing the formulas we find online.
God’s Word and the Counsel of Community
Reading an article cannot replace the counsel found in reading God’s Word, praying, and gathering with God’s people. The here-you-go, problem-solved tone of many list-style articles often makes it feel like you don’t need to look anywhere else for counsel. And that is appealing. Why? Because it takes work to read, understand, and apply God’s Word. Prayer often doesn’t give the instant answers or insights we want. And being part of God’s family on a local, tangible level is messier than being part of God’s family on the Internet. But these—the Bible, prayer, and community—are the primary means by which God speaks, and reading articles should just be a small part of that larger context.
Only the Gospel Can Transform
When we boil things down to a simple list, we can miss the opportunity for the gospel to shine through the weaknesses of our churches, pastors, leaders, and members. We think we can fix our church’s giving problem, convince people to serve, or have the perfect quiet time, and we make ourselves the judges of the progress. But no list has the power to change people; no list can change me. The most a list can do is point us to the One who can. Moses brought the ultimate list down from the mountain, and no one but Jesus could check everything off. Thankfully, because he did, we are given his perfect record (2 Cor 5:21).
Apply the List I Just Gave You
Lists are a helpful way to present information. (In fact, that’s sort of what I just gave you. Remember when I said I was a structure fiend?) When we read the wisdom of lists, it must be in the light of Jesus’ saving grace, God’s glorious Word, and the community of God’s chosen people. His provision for us must under-gird any step-by-step list we stumble upon or we will fall into the pit of achievement seeking.
There is so much good and helpful information for us to read, and the Holy Spirit can use list-style articles to bring clarity, to help us reflect, and to convict us of sin. So, read all the three-things-you-should-do articles you want, but don’t lose your gospel focus as you do.