At risk of sounding really pathetic, we have all been sick for a month. Literally a month with at least two of us sick at a time. It has been really awful. During this same time period, we have done a lot of painting, both started working here in Waco (me at a normal job, Jeremiah at school, of course), moved, lived without a washer for 10 days, and many other exciting and delightful things. Did I mention we moved? And we’ve been sick? It has been a little crazy.
But now all of the craziness of coalescing into a blog post, perhaps. Not a very well-thought-out one but one born of late night conversations with Jeremiah, commiserating about our lives. So here goes:
I think we need to cut “nominal” Christians some slack. Probably a lot of slack. Growing up, I think there wasn’t an insult much worse than being a “nominal” Christian. It meant that either you didn’t get it or you didn’t care, because if you did both get it and care, you would do more. Being a nominal Christian, as you might assume from the word “nominal” ends up being equated with action more than anything. If you say some of the right stuff but don’t do all the right things, you might wind up with the label. And you might imagine that this would be applied to those who do “bad” things, but in my experience that’s not true. Those people are the “backsliders.” The “nominal” are those who aren’t really that bad but aren’t actively good enough.
They aren’t excited enough. Not enthusiastic enough. Not pushy enough when sharing their faith with others. And they’re not involved enough. They are the ones “without enough buy-in to the community,” who don’t show up for much, who are friendly when they do, but a little shy on the sidelines, who maybe go to a Sunday service or an InterVarsity large group but don’t do much beyond that to show their commitment to growing spiritually. Or maybe they’re a part of a small group but don’t go to church Sunday mornings. In any case, they show some marginal interest in God, but it’s clear that they aren’t too “serious.”
I can remember, in particular, some of the people I used to write off—not always as nominal Christians, per se, but as Christians who weren’t “active” enough. Many of them were people who couldn’t maintain the same schedule I did because of other commitments. Some of these were voluntary (although dearly beloved) like band. But some were involuntary things like work. And still, if they didn’t show enough sorrow about it or try hard enough to change their schedule, there was at least a sliver of judgment on my part.
I’m starting to think that all of that was a bunch of bull. In particular, I’m starting to see the time to be as “involved” as desired by most evangelical churches and organizations as a wonderful ideal with little practical value, particularly for those over 25. I’m not saying we should all just stop doing anything or offering any opportunities for people to get to know each other or grow spiritually together. But I do think we need to stop being so judgmental about it and having unrealistic expectations.
I think real-life people are very pressed for time. If you have kids you have no time. If you lack money, you also lack time. I am starting to see time as something belonging to college students, empty nesters, and rich people. And I think lack of time is behind a lot of the behaviors associated with “nominalism.” What is seen as half-heartedness, inconsistency, or self-absorption is often simply a lack of time, which is not that person’s fault. It says more about their social position than their commitment to God.
And I think the response to this that past-me and many people I have known throughout the years would have to this statement would be to say, “But look at Bob! Bob has nothing! But look at all the great things BOB does!” Yes, maybe Bob does these things. But seriously, is it really fair to make those demands? Perhaps I have just become a total slacker myself, but I think we have CRAZY ideas about what we can tell other people God wants from them. What do I think God wants? I think a lot of the time, God really just wants people to get to spend time with their families and to have a brief rest each day before going back to work in a job that barely keeps their family going. And I think that in our country there are a startling number of people—from younger people who are less financially established to older people on a fixed income ,and from women and ethnic minorities who have been paid less than they deserve for decades to all the people who have been laid off in recent years and had to go months without pay—who are in that boat.
I believe that everyone can serve God where they are and everyone should be encouraged to be a meaningful part of a Christian community, but I think in prescribing one-size-fits-all plans for overzealous involvement in order to be recognized as a “strong Christian” or a “leader” or a “godly woman” or a “good guy,” we, ultimately, are siding with those with plenty rather than those in need. The ability to be involved is a luxury many would like to have. Let us not make the mistake of implying God is on any side but theirs.