Stop the weird people!

20 August, 2013 — 13 Comments

I’ve just finished the longest rest I’ve had in a long time: sitting on a plane for 23 hours flying to London. I’m looking forward to Greenbelt this weekend!
For two days last week I attended the annual Baptist Pastor’s Conference for the South Island (NZ) ministers. It was pretty good. It was mostly sitting listening to people talk, and I listened with my usual filter looking for signs of engagement with communication issues.

Stop-the-weird-people-mikecrudge

The highlight of this was during an interview panel of pastors facilitated by Murray Robertson from the Leadership Network. To the panel of three pastors he asked them why their churches were part of a small minority of (I think about ten) Baptist churches in New Zealand that have increased in size over the last five years. The comment I thought was the most revealing in terns of considering communication, was along the lines of:

“Stop the weird people from being the dominant ones talking up being Christian and your church.”

This pastor was pointing out how many people in his church, including himself, find it very difficult to share their Christian faith with normal people in normal ways. Which meant they generally weren’t sharing their Christian faith with normal people in normal ways.

In the absence of this normality, some of the most actively visible promotors of the Christian faith and church were what he called “weird” people.

Who are the weird people?
Regardless of how you feel about a pastor calling some people weird, I suspect we all know what he means. These weird people might have an exuberant confidence, perhaps caused by a lack of self awareness. They might be weird because of extreme theological views – or simply incorrect theology. They might have eight children, or not own a television. They might just be… weird!

The antichrist
I would be surprised it you can’t think of a few weird people in your church or from your past. One in my experience is very admirable in his willingness to talk to new people at Sunday church services. The problem is he chews on their ear for as long as he has their attention about the latest date he’s figured out for when Jesus is coming back, who the lucky 144,000 are, who the antichrist is, and how evil technology is. He also stands quite close, you know, that invading-personal-space thing.

The pastor being interviewed wasn’t saying get rid of weird people. He was pointing out that there were a lot of other people in his church who weren’t active in presenting (communicating) faith and community in ways normal people could positivly engage with. He wasn’t just talking about Sunday church services.

This is what he has been trying to address in his church.

He told us how simple yet difficult this was.
He told stories of friendship and hospitality and service. He didn’t describe it as such, but I would say what he’s doing is changing the culture of the Christian-faith-community he leads.

So, what do you think about this:

1) Stop the weird people from dominating (damaging) how the church and Christian faith are communicated.

2) Encourage the rest of the faith-community to do “normal” yet in twentyfirst century New Zealand seemingly radical things (friendship, hospitality, service…).

Image “Crazy Girl Cross Eyed And Pulling Her Ears” courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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  • Tim Bulkeley

    Mike, the way you described “weird people” means that they are very difficult to stop tactfully. Do we have to get stroppier and start telling them they are wrong and damaging the witness to the gospel and please to shut up? And if so, who has to do the telling? And how?

    • The new comment today from Barry Pearman above is probably the answer to your question: encourage the “normal” to out balance the weird. I also like the comment from Stu who tries to get at what Jesus would do…
      In my own context I would see the second point I ended on as being the massive challenge that would probably make the most difference with this stuff.

  • Stu

    Yes, this is a hard one. I get bailed up all the time by folk like this….. One of the challenges is that we somehow innately feel that we should tolerate this weirdness and that doing so is the Christian ‘gracious’ thing to do. So, I ask myself “How would Jesus deal with a strange person like this….” and I answer…. “dunno” because he mostly just cast demons out of the real weird ones and healed the rest, which I can’t do…… (not yet anyway) Does anyone else out there have some examples where Jesus confronted such people? The only one that comes to mind is when the people wanted to crown Jesus King, and he just walked through them……

    • With your first comment Stu I have to say “like attracts like”!!… But seriously, I really like your questioning around what Jesus would do. There are a few instances that seem like his disciples may have frustrated him, and I suspect some of us as followers still do. And as Barry has said in the comment above, encourage the “normal”…

    • Tim Bulkeley

      Unless you think that the Pharisees were the (or one sort of the) “weird people” of Jesus’ day…

      NB I am not naturally confrontational, but I am beginning to wonder if our wanting to be nice has allowed the nutters to almost take over the public face of “Christian”…

  • I think many of the weird will seem weird enough to most non-weird for them to be seen for what they are – weird. How is that for communication?? So don’t stop them, continue to love them, maybe put some boundaries around them if they over the top, but encourage the ‘normal’ (whatever that maybe) to do the normal non weird loving hospitality etc. Great post Mike

    • Thanks Barry! A less catchy but more accurate title to this post would have been as you say: encourage the normal…

  • DrDon

    Mike, your reflections from a pastor’s conference are a worthy discussion, but, first of all, the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary suggests ‘weird’ as an adjective “may imply an unearthly or supernatural strangeness or it may stress queerness or oddness”. Jesus was both supernatural and ‘odd’, especially when the reference was the religious culture of ‘his day’. Does this makes him ‘weird’ – Hmmmmm?

    In allowing your blog to communicate to me, I find several things that concern me. The concerns I would like to communicate stem from your statement “Baptist churches in New Zealand that have increased in size over the last five years. The comment I thought was the most revealing in terms of considering communication, was along the lines of: “Stop the weird people from being the dominant ones talking up being Christian and your church.”

    a) “increased in size” is a recurring concern – The suggestion is that Pastors seem to be focussed on increasing “bums on seats”, and from a personal perspective, what that focus communicates to me is that they are not interested in me as a person who needs support in my faith journey/development/transformation with God. Rarely do I have communicated to me that Pastors focus on crying out to God with pleas like “I present myself to you as a living sacrifice so please make me into the person you can use to help people in their faith development, no matter what that means for me”.

    b) “most revealing in terms of considering communication”. I am not certain what you really mean by this, but at the moment I assume you mean the ‘communication from the church to those outside the church’. From my study of Scripture, what I believe should be being communicated in an attitude of ‘I must decrease and God must increase’ is that the people in the church exist for God’s mission to the world (e.g. restoration of humanity into an ever-deepening relationship with Him.)

    c) “Stop the weird people from being the dominant ones talking up being Christian and your church”. This raises several points, from the last to the first.

    1. ‘Your church’ from a meeting of Pastors communicates to me that Pastors consider the local church to be ‘their church’. – Where in Scripture can I find the authority to support this attitude. From a Baptist’s perspective, the Pastor is employed by the church which makes the pastor the church’s servant. Hmm? We are all God’s church, and perhaps the expression should be ‘the church community that you serve’.

    2. Perhaps people who are ‘dominant’ are just simply trying to find an opportunity to share, and seeing that the ‘service’ is a time when people have communicated to them that they have to ‘sit down, shut up, be passive, and do as you are told’, then I can imagine some people are just about screaming to want to share by the end of the service. Why stop them – help them develop their God given talents and give them opportunities to exercise their gifts – both within and without the community. Don’t put boundaries around them – we need to help them find God’s boundaries for themselves.

    3. “Stop the weird people” – These ‘weird’ people may just be those whom God has sent with their gifts to try to refocus the church on it’s true mission – just like Jesus did. Why would you want to oppose God?

    Jesus appears to have spent much time making himself available to people where they were, so that he could engage in an interactive communication with people. His focus was on listening to them and then provoking their minds into a rethink or renewal of their mind so that they would seek/search for truth/wisdom. He then guided them to consider how they could integrate that truth/wisdom into their lives. He didn’t focus on doing a dissertation about Scripture and telling people what to do – he dealt with their faith development issues and he used Scripture as a reference or benchmark. All this he did as he sacrificed his life to do God’s will for others.
    — How about a topic for a pastor’s meeting based on the above, especially if you included non-pastors in order to promote discussion? I would love to read a reflection on a that.

  • manwithbowloffreshfruitonhead

    The source of all frustration is in that though we all strive with everything that’s in us to be normal we will never win that battle because we were all created unique.

    • Hi manwithbowloffreshfruitonhead
      And what is “normal” anyway?!

      • manwithbowloffreshfruitonhead

        Yeah our understanding of normal is faulty, normal to me is like the parameters that we allow others to express their uniqueness, and not the other way round

  • jayberg

    And yet .. once upon a time, in jail, a young inmate who lived in my region, asked me what church I attended. I told him. He thought about it, and said “I know that church. No, I haven’t been there, but on Saturday mornings there is this loud group of Christians, on the footpath outside the bank, getting in everyones way. And there is this old lady who says nothing, has her eyes closed, and holds out tracts. I always take one from her.” The lady was 92, our oldest parishioner. You know, there is really only one way of ensuring that someone else is not on the part of the road you want, and that is to be there yourself.

    • Thanks for sharing this experience jayberg. I think of John the Baptist too – he must have seemed pretty weird, but no doubt a significant part of the Jesus-story.