“And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.” — Acts 4:1-4
If there was ever an animal that represented the American church today some would say it’s the Ostrich. Documented by the naturalist Pliny the Elder, in his book Historia naturalis, he writes; “They imagine, when they have thrust their head and neck into a bush, that the whole of the body is concealed.” The fact is that ostriches do not really stick their heads in the sand in hopes of avoiding trouble. Whenever they were seen with their buried heads, they were turning their unhatched eggs, which were buried for safe-keeping. They actually lay their head and neck flat upon the ground in hopes of eluding predators when in dangerous circumstances Unfortunately though, the axiom of a person “sticking their heads in the sand like an ostrich” remains a common metaphor today.
As I observe the health and vitality of the American church; especially the Black church; I can understand how this bashful fowl might be an appropriate harbinger of misplaced hopes of safety. Like the ostrich; hoping to avoid detection by its natural predator; the church believes that by obscuring its own line of sight – diminishing its perceived presence by disengaging the culture – it might be saved from becoming the next fragmented skeletal remains’ along the wide expanse of the urban context.
Margaret Heffernan, insightfully said,
“We may think being blind makes us safer, when in fact it leaves us crippled, vulnerable, and powerless. But when we confront facts and fears, we achieve real power and unleash our capacity for change.” (Willful Blindness © 2011)
So why does the church continue to operate as though it’s safe and secure from its natural predators? Predators such as attrition; the Oxford Dictionary defines attrition as the process of naturally reducing the strength or effectiveness of something or someone through sustained attack or pressure. In the life of the church this could be caused by the natural aging of its membership or a growing discontent and withdrawal from the congregational life by millennials; which is the life-flow of the Christian church.
I would offer that cognitive dissonance is one of the primary natural causes; reinforced by sheer leadership fatigue. Dissonance occurs when two opposing realities become so prominent that the mind cannot find peace – resulting in a choice of one over the other having to be made; usually at one’s peril. And it’s also usually the safer choice.
Heffernan suggests this choice is reinforced by comfort. It is simply the easiest choice. It takes far less energy and resources to believe everything is wonderful and alright, rather than to doubt; based upon new data or information that may create a sense of doom and gloom. Especially when we’re tired or distracted from a life of ministry.
This is what happens time and again in the gospels. We see Jesus; as well as the apostles; declare truths that are clearly evidence of GOD’s authority in Jesus Christ, but are rejected because the new reality [read data] causes the people listening to face cost’s they simply are not prepared to pay. Most times it’s money, relationships, ones’ pride and sometimes just hard heartedness. Other times, like the case in point, with the Captain of the Temple Guard and the Sadducees, it’s a clear case of institutional investment. They rejected the power and authority of Jesus Christ because it challenged their reality. Creating levels of cognitive dissonance which had to be negotiated.
They realized to support Peter and John’s claims of Jesus’s resurrection, they would be dismantling their religious authority over the wealthiest of the Jewish people. So they began to dig holes to stick their heads in. Yet, in spite of that, more than ten thousand people are believed to have rejected the status-quo – the familiar, common thing – and came to faith in Christ through Peter’s preaching.
I see these same factors in-play systemically in congregations weekly. The reality of the dangers are clear and present, i.e., news broadcasts, family conversations, personal reflections…etc. The answers are sometimes clearly presented as well. Yet, when the costs are weighed, the relationships polled, those in leadership positions seek the softest sand they can find.
Prayer: Dear Lord, we need Holy Spirit to create in us men and women who will forfeit their agendas, relationships, psychological contracts and social comforts for Your divine destiny to save the sinner, heal the brokenhearted and redeem our cities. Please have mercy upon us. Even as we gratefully acknowledge that yes, #thereisgrace4them2. Amen
ΑΩ ~ Reverend A. David Griffin, M.Div., Missional Church Planter