Achievers face the tyranny of accomplishment. Precision and speed often mean missing the impact of content. Dr. Pretlove may have hinted at this with me when he told me, "Some people go to church just so they can go home again." Failure to engage the content of a worthy project renders accomplishment meaningless. Going to church just to say you went makes attendance meaningless. Getting a degree just to say you have one makes your new found expertise questionable. Most Americans are achievers. Groomed to fulfill the American dream prompts us to practice utilitarian ethics. We are most pragmatic about life. Once the course is charted in a given direction we look for supportive advice and influences. We want confirmation on the way not question.
Today I listened with interest to an interview with Dieter Zander (also here) – for our current ETREK course. Our discussion centered around "spiritual formation." Really the issue focused our attention on how is it we are following Jesus. The genre of "spiritual formation" becomes for some nothing more than an end rather than a means. Something Richard Foster notes well in his classic, Celebration of Disciplines. The conversation pivoted at times on the role of the Church in following Jesus. Dieter offered something he once heard Dallas Willard say, "They come to church to have their beliefs ratified."
Much like settling in on the course to pursue the American Dream we look for a place to "ratify" what I already believe. It is less about finding a place to live in community with others and together to carry on the mission of God in the world. It is more about being regularly reassured of the way I am thinking. If it is true we tend to be "achievers" in this Country our conversion, coming to follow Jesus, is as laden with cultural baggage as any New Testament context. We simply look for ways to have our cake and eat it too.
Willard evidently went on to suggest until there is something of a crisis one will really not follow Jesus for he or she does not think they need a teacher. Formation becomes an option for the achiever once he or she gets across the line, grabs the ticket to the city of gold. When we talk about thinking missionally it is with this reality in mind. Until we own our individual self-sufficiency we will not, to borrow from Rob Bell’s "Dust", be covered with the "dust of our Rabbi." The reason: we don’t need anyone to teach us to accomplish the American Dream. The problem: the American Dream and the Kingdom Dream compete. Once we admit our thinking is wrong our approach to church may change. We may be confronted with Jesus. Our attendance may take on different meaning when we no longer come to get our beliefs ratified but we come to follow Jesus because He wants those who are his disciples not to just know what he knows but to do what he does.