People who grow up with an alcoholic parent know there is a problem but no one is allowed to talk about it. The elephant is in the room but no one can name it. Everyone dances around it. When visitors come by we have tremendous pressure to make the unhealthy things look healthy and put the best face on it. They tidy up, put away the beer bottles, hide things under the bed, until the guest leaves. Then everything goes back to “normal” which isn’t a good thing. The reality is things weren’t as tranquil as you pretend they are when the guests are around. But it would be too painful to let them in on reality.
It is time to put the big issue on the table. Hang with me because it isn’t going to feel good but it has to be said. I say this out of love. Buckle up, walk away for a minute if you have to but hear me out.
There are a lot of similarities between alcoholic homes and many of our churches. We know there is a problem but we aren’t allowed to name it. But until we do actually name it we will never escape it or be free of our deepest issues.
What is the addiction?
Our addiction is the addiction to our own rightness and righteousness and the exclusion of others from being in that circle.
Our addiction to being right is the root cause of our inability to embrace change. Please think on that for a few minutes before reading further and tell me if I am wrong on this.
We have codependent churches. Codepencies is someone who is not okay unless the other person is okay. So the alcoholic is not okay without the alcohol and everyone else tiptoes around to make sure they are okay or else they will rage out to keep things they way the alcoholic is comfortable with. Everyone orbits around the person and their issue.
Codependent churches are afraid to offend anyone.
Codependent churches don’t challenge people.
Codependent churches are places where people aren’t allowed to question anything: scripture or tradition (because even the tradition is the only way to do it and our take on scripture is a lock on the truth).
People aren’t allowed to question the doctrine, even though questions are healthy and part of the learning process. It creates suspicion, in my opinion that there is something else going on under the surface that no one is saying out loud. If you are new to Churches of Christ it is like being the guest in the alcoholic house and picking up that something isn’t right but you can’t quite put your finger on it. If you have grown up here it is like being the child of an alcoholic and this is all you have known and assume it is like this everywhere else. It isn’t.
There is our codependence. Don’t talk about it. Maintain the status quo. Don’t question it. If your friends come to your house, don’t let them see the bottles in dad’s office. Shut the door, tidy up and then let them in…then back to life as usual when your friend leaves (which isn’t always as pleasant as you made it look).
Have you ever wanted to invite a friend to church but were too worried over what might be preached or taught to actually invite someone? But then never questioned those things that are so offensive or challenged them? You are codependent with your church culture.
The inability to be questioned really makes our doctrine seem frail, not robust if we are so worried about scrutiny. (I like our doctrine in its best form, that is why I am still here – just so you know where I am coming from).
There is an elephant in the room and no one is allowed to talk about it. The system is maintained, just like in an alcoholic home, that if you bring up making things better people explode in rage. You have seen people do it. Maybe you have done it.
Maybe you are doing it right now! Are you?
There is an old story line of the villain who is to remain nameless (Monstro from Pinocchio, Voldemort from Harry Potter, etc). The name is spoken only in dread. But until we man up and speak the name we remain in the grip of the issue. That means you have to be willing to have people rage on you in order to put your finger on the problem, put it in the open and find resolution and reconciliation over it.
You have seen this:
Pass communion from the back? How dare you.
Leave out a scripture reading? Get ready for an explosion and people walking out the door.
Don’t do the invitation? We might miss someone, even though no one ever comes forward. Now we aren’t “sound.”
You get the point.
Our rage keeps the system in place because we have been told this is the only system that makes God happy. We are right, those with other systems are wrong. Keep the system going or go to hell. How much more justified can you be in your rage, right? Keeping the system in place is keeping us going to heaven – so change is akin to being lost because we are addicted to the idea of our own rightness, which inoculates us from change, which keeps us from being healthy, which keeps us from freedom in Christ.
This is a huge problem.
This has everything to do with discipleship.
We can’t do it because Boston did it and look what happened there.
We can’t do it because we tried that before (sermon series) and nothing changed.
We can’t do that because the denominations do that.
On and on…keep the system in place. Don’t name the elephant. Challenge this and face rage. Lose your job. It has to change.
It will never change until we name the elephant and repent of keeping it alive so long.
There is power in naming our problems. Like Jesus asking for the demons’ name, Legion, we need to name these things openly. Repent of them. Find a better, more biblical way forward.
I even hesitate to write this because these things aren’t to be named and it puts me at risk to say it. But it needs to be said. We can’t and won’t move forward with effective discipling until we address this. Sure we can teach on it. We can preach on it. We can mentor people – but this nameless thing will still loom over us.
So your choice is do you take up stones against me or lay them down and acknowledge our complicity in this, if you have been truly complicit. I know I have been.
This post is part of a series:
Co-dependent Churches – A Major Barrier to Change
Church Co-dependency & Naming the Elephants: Tradition
Church Co-dependency & Naming the Elephants: Fellowship
Church Co-dependency Characteristics