Jerk Store

There is a French phrase, L’esprit de l’escalier, which is used to describe the phenomenon of having the perfect response come to you only after you have definitively ended a conversation. The concept, if not the phrase itself, was popularized (at least to me) in the Seinfeld episode The Comeback. 

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While not exactly the same circumstance, the situation popped into my head as I was continuing to read Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I had just recently published a post on the subject of manipulation and then came across some great quotes from a respectable source that would have fit wonderfully into that post.

That being said, you can consider this post the “jerk store” follow-up to my previous post, Impulse to Manipulate.

“Here one soul operates directly upon another soul. The weak have been overcome by the strong, the resistance of the weak has broken down under the influence of another person. He has been overpowered, but not won over by the thing itself.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

This is Bonhoeffer describing community, not of the Spirit, but under the coercive powers of man. If you have been around blogs where pastors congregate often enough you will eventually start to hear certain charges leveled against the “laity”. They will be called variants of lazy, thinking that the pastor has been hired to do ministry for them, rather than jumping into the fray themselves.

Authority is leveraged, guilt and shame applied, to bring about the desired results. It is plain to see that this is not a community of the Spirit, but one where it is deemed necessary to exert pressure and overpower the fleshly will of the congregation to mould the community into the desired shape.

Bonhoeffer goes on to say;

 “This becomes evident as soon as the demand is made that he throw himself into the cause itself, independently of the person to whom he is bound, or possibly in opposition to this person”

Bonhoeffer describes almost perfectly the current pastor-centric evangelical incarnation of the church. Not only do you have the mild engagement of the body in the ministry that it has been called to do, but it seems like you end up with example after example of abusive behavior within church leadership which is only opposed with great difficulty because there are so many people whose whole Christian walk has really taken place in another man’s shoes.

I am not necessarily saying that large portions of the visible church are not truly believers, but the tree that we have been asked to look at to discern that has been bound in such a way that it has been kept preternaturally immature and not allowed to bear fruit.The ends do not justify the means, quite the opposite, the means serve to obscure the ends.

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“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” [Galatians 5:22-23]

I would personally prefer communities that let the Spirit bear fruit, rather than ones that are so worried about producing apples that it doesn’t mind substituting wax ones for the real thing.

Then again, I can’t pretend that they don’t sell my model at the jerk store.

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24 thoughts on “Jerk Store

  1. So, hopefully not to oversimplify, but the answer may be for the leaders to encourage the “weak” to be overcome by the Spirit,( instead of ” the resistance of the weak (being) broken down under the influence of another person”) Focus on teaching them how to grow closer to God themselves, and let the fruit come as it may.
    Of course, that would require the leader to get the focus off of themselves and their own desired results…..

    • There is a certain amount of patience, care, and faith that is required when trusting in the Spirit to convict and bring growth. We tend to be pretty results oriented as a culture, and if something doesn’t seem to be working, or we find a way to produce quicker results we will generally opt for that.

      We seem to prefer the Tower of Babel which will give us the appearance of climbing closer to God rather than the indwelling Spirit which gives us access not just to His throne, but to His mind.

  2. Pastor centric is a good term. I have yet to see a church where I don’t hear “My pastor says”…and then goes on. I’m not saying pastors don’t say good things or that we should never listen to the words of men. We will and we do. But, I find it odd when people base their entire lives around what their pastors says on Sunday morning. Don’t you read your bible yourself? And further, pastors families are the ones that suffer in a pastor-centric church. I’ve seen it and it’s sad. The church comes first and the pastors family comes dead last.

    • There is a blog that I “hate read” that just yesterday posted an “Autopsy of a Deceased Pastor” talking about burnout among pastors. Nearly every problem listed in the article could be traced back to the pastor centric nature of the church. Neglect of family, level of criticism, power politics, etc all stem from looking to that one man as the hub that the entire church spins around.

      • At our last church, I saw the pastor about burn out from trying to play savior. That makes sense. I do know another pastor who is older and he is much more humble and peaceful. He does preach his sermons and care about his church, but he isn’t rushing around trying to save them. We attended his church and it was ok as far as churches go, and I liked him, but I can’t get past church culture. But he didn’t seem pastor centric at all. He was very laid back and didn’t want attention on himself at all. Rare to see that these days.

        • In regards to your original comment, I have definitely found myself falling into “My pastor says” forms of speech. Even being out of the church I can fall into “Luther says” Bonhoeffer says” “Lewis says” “Keller says”, and as I’ve said before I don’t think that is always a bad thing, but it needs to come from agreement.

          “I was reading scripture and came across this truth… CS Lewis put it beautifully when he said… ”

          It’s like the idea that you should not really consult commentaries until you have a handle on what you think a passage is saying. We have great resources available to us, but we have to be able to converse with even the dead men of the faith. If Calvin says such and such about salvation, I need to be able to interact with his points rather than passively digest them.

          • Yes. I know a lot of people who quote their pastor and make a big deal out of living out what he says. It’s fine if it’s the love of Jesus that spurs you to live holy lives. We should be careful about our motives.

          • That is where we have to be careful about what we think Jesus meant when he said to make disciples. We are not the new breed of rabbi called to bring disciples under OUR teaching, but have been called to spread the gospel and make disciples of Jesus. We have “no need of a teacher” because we sit at the feet of Jesus through the ministering of the Spirit.

            Our current culture of following different pastors, teachers, theologians, denominational distinctives is really no different than the system of rabbinical traditions that Jesus was born into.

          • “If Calvin says such and such about salvation, I need to be able to interact with his points rather than passively digest them.”

            There, I think you’ve nailed it my friend! But in order to interact like this, we must operate on the understanding that Calvin (or whoever) is a brother – an equal and peer – not one who has authority “over” us in some manner. Those of us who were brought up in a culture that taught, “Touch not God’s anointed!”, were groomed to simply accept and submit to whatever teaching our gurus spouted. Just like immature children.

            Of course, we were expected to act like adults when it came time to implementing those teachings, especially when it was to further the church’s ‘mission’. No wonder so many of us crashed and burned trying to deal with such dissonance and double-speak! :/

          • “an equal and peer”

            Absolutely, there are sources that I will go to for information because I respect them, but I have to be very careful not to accept things just because a trusted source says it. I have to be able to ground it… that being said I am pretty liberal with allowing myself to do beta test theology.

  3. Yep, again with the appearances. How does that passage go? Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.
    Faith can be really hard sometimes. Especially when we are not the ones in charge of making the seed grow.

    • I’m starting to think that I’m going to continue blogging through this book, and if I do there is a really good quote on approaching our brothers with the scriptures that I am looking forward to potentially opening up a bit… there, that might be my very first blog teaser trailer.

      One of the prevailing themes in scripture about the character being formed in us is that of patience, steadfastness, perseverance, endurance … all of these things that give me the impression that not much of what we are going to experience in this life is going to be quick and easy.

      We need to trust that God will be faithful in how he is working, trusting that he is at work even if we can’t see it, or don’t see enough of it.

  4. “I would personally prefer communities that let the Spirit bear fruit, rather than ones that are so worried about producing apples that it doesn’t mind substituting wax ones for the real thing.”

    OMG! This says it all, really 😀

  5. dswoager,

    About the prevailing themes you mentioned…… another one I’ve picked up on (not sure if there is actual scripture for it, but this theme seems to present itself) is that God is not necessarily interested in our comfort. Growth, yes – but definitely not comfort. One of my favourite Russ Taff songs, “but as an eagle stirs her nest, so that her young ones will have not rest, God in his own mysterious way stirs up his people to watch and pray.”

    Very interesting teaser – I’ll take the bait! 🙂

    • I think that’s true, but I will say that it is another thing that is often more contrived than realized in the “toxic church”. The Spirit is the Comforter, so if it is anyone’s job to “afflict the comfortable” as the saying goes, it is the one who provides us with true comfort. That passage I was teasing goes along with that idea as well… I’m hoping Sunday or Monday to have something together, good thought though.

    • I don’t know that it is a preference as much as a fear of producing no fruit or allowing bad fruit to rot on the vine. In most cases it is a lack of faith, pure and simple.

      It reminds me of a cucumber that I bought from a while back, it was enormous, and looked healthy with nice dark vibrant green skin. I cut some up for my daughter, and luckily took a bite myself, the thing tasted like it was soaked in a vat of chemicals. Some of the things that we do to artifically engineer good fruit actually makes it poison.

  6. EEEk! That sounds horrible…..vegetables on steroids…..

    The Spirit is the Comforter, yes…. I was speaking more in the general sense of our personal relationship with God, not necessarily in the church sense. I think what I hear you saying is that the “afflicting the comfortable” is contrived in the toxic church, as opposed to just letting the Spirit do His job?

    • I agree with you though. God is rarely in the interest of keeping you in one place, at least spiritually thinking. I think that much of that has the appearance of the duck floating on the water though. A lot of what God is working in me is only visible under the surface. I also think that’s one of the biggest reasons to encourage things that show fake fruit… or to make up fruit that is other than that of the Spirit. Most of those fruits aren’t flashy, they present in low key demonstrations much like the fruit of all of the underwater thrashing of the duck is the visibile image of serene floating… this is not one of my better metaphors :p

  7. Actually, that metaphor works fine, I get it. (besides, I like ducks!) And any results of God’s working on us tend to take time, which can give the impression that nothing has happened for a long time.
    I like the analogy of building a large building. You see the workers spending a whole lot of time just working on this hole in the ground, and it seems to take forever for it to look like more than just a hole. They’re taking the time to get the foundation right.
    Once the foundation is right, the rest of it goes up much quicker.
    But they don’t want to rush the foundation for the sake of looking more productive, or quicker results…..

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