“You should go to church–and like it, whether you like it or not.”

Some responders to my articles on the Dones (people who’ve left the organized church) have assigned total blame to the Dones themselves. “They’re backsliders,” they say. “It’s their duty to obey God and get their backsides back to church.”

I’ve seen a similar tone among some who’ve responded to my article on the demise of congregational singing. “Regardless of the sound or anything else, you are commanded to sing and make a joyful noise,” they say. Some refer to their own personal example: “I don’t make excuses. Every week I worship God with a humble heart.”

My friend Rick Lawrence, project leader for the new Jesus-Centered Bible, cites a Christmastime Facebook post from a pastor:

“We had a wonderful celebration of Jesus’ birth last evening, with almost 100 of us gathered together. It was, however, disappointing that some excused themselves from being there for secular and family celebrations that in reality had nothing to do with Christmas. If we are followers of Jesus we need to celebrate God coming among us in the faith community. The only legitimate excuse to be absent is if we are either in intensive care or the morgue. Folks, it always comes down to our priorities and our level of commitment to living out our baptismal promises. If you made the wrong choice this Christmas, reflect deeply on how you can change it, and why you should. Jesus is God’s love in the flesh, and the only response he seeks from us is for us to return that love!”

Rick wrote: “This pastor has just shoveled a steaming pile of should into the lap of his congregation.”

What is the ultimate effect of this kind of admonishment and attempted behavior modification? Is shame a fruitful ministry tool? I see several problems.

  1. Shaming usually involves the shamer’s negative judgment of a person’s heart and motives. That’s dangerous and destructive.
  2. Shaming doesn’t work. Few people increase their authentic love and devotion to God (or anyone) because someone shames them into loving.
  3. Shamers inevitably come off as self-righteous. That’s not the reputation God desires for his followers.
  4. Shaming distracts the shamers from improving their own ministry effectiveness.
  5. Shaming forgets that God doesn’t want a “shotgun” relationship with us.

As a loving Father, God wants us to draw near to him–not out of duty, obligation or shame, but out of genuine love. He’s not looking for indentured servants. He’s looking for true friends. So is his Son, who told his followers: “I no longer call you servants. Instead, I call you friends.” (John 15:15)

The truth is, Jesus is wildly in love with you. He not only loves you; he likes you. He’s not looking to be one more item on your “to do” list. He’s looking for a real relationship.

When Rick Lawrence writes about the Jesus-centered life, he describes it like a gravitational pull–toward the loving, welcoming arms of Jesus.

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus-Centered Bible)