Brene Brown is one of my favorite human beings. Her thought has been a lifeline for me and continues to inform my vision for full humanity. One of her foundation principles involves the reality of what she calls “the gap.” By that, she means the gap between our aspirational values, those things we aspire to be, those things we say we are all about, and our practiced values, what we really do. The larger the gap that develops between those two things the greater the level of disengagement that will result from those that are part of our system.
Here it is as an equation:
————————– = level of disengagement
Here’s my theory on what’s happening in American evangelicalism in a nutshell. The gap got too big. We are seeing unprecedented numbers of people fleeing from the organized evangelical church. These aren’t just “flakes” or the “uncommitted” but people who have given their lives to the cause of the church. For many, the new level of disengagement has found them outside of the bounds of organized or institutional Christianity altogether. The funny thing is that the machine of evangelicalism has hardly stopped to notice this reality. The church is bleeding out and acting as if everything is fine.
Here’s the gap between what we say we believe (our aspirational values) and what we actually do (our practiced values)
In these and many other significant ways, the Evangelical Church has lost its credibility with large numbers of Americans, many of whom formerly found themselves among her ranks.
A gap, of smaller scale, indicates a healthy sense of not having arrived, not yet having become what we aspire to be. Paul, himself, says that he didn’t think he had arrived or that he had fully apprehended the mystery of Christ [Phil. 3:12-13]. This reflects a healthy sense of humility on his part. He knew that there was more work to be done in him, that God’s work was not complete yet.
This current gap, however, is far too large to be useful or an indicator of healthy humility. It reflects a tragic lack of self-awareness on the part of the professing community. This is the sobering reality. We can’t be recovered without a resurgence in self-honesty and we are busy convincing ourselves that “we’re fine.” There is an unhealthy form of groupthink that operates in our groups, a conspiracy of silence. “I won’t talk about reality, if you don’t.”
What can we do to regain credibility? The only answer is returning to honesty, admitting how far we have drifted away from congruence and in true heartfelt contrition and repentance, returning to first things. This may be nearly impossible for some congregations and leaders. Without the transformative work of the Spirit, it is entirely impossible. There is, however, no way to return to a biblical paradigm without this critical step. Similar to the way in which Jesus counseled the church in Laodicea, we may need to follow this prescription [Rev. 3:17-22]:
You say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.