A controller dictates the actions of things on video games. We use remote controls to make tiny cars turn or watch what we want on television. Control towers dictate the movement of thousands of planes every day, all around the world.
So I guess in these instances, control is fun or challenging or makes our lives easier or travel safer. We try to maintain control in order to get a desired outcome.
No wonder I try to control people.
I control my kids with consequences or a raised voice. I control friends with affirmation or judgment. I try to control strangers with charity or fear.
Why the obsession? Why this need for control?
* * * * *
This whole idea of control weighs heavily on my mind – we completed our fourth week in our book discussion of Rob Bell’s “Love Wins.” The experience has been transformational for me, not theologically or exegetically, but relationally.
What changed me was the experience of entering into a discussion on a controversial topic and not once feeling my blood pressure rise. What changed me is this process of having questions and then looking through the Gospels to find possible solutions, instead of falling back on rote answers and clichés.
What changed me is this deliberate intention of not trying to control people’s opinions or beliefs.
Going into this book discussion, I could have set up camp in one particular school of thought and then spent the entire six weeks trying to convince everyone to join me there. I could have lobbed adversarial verses (taken out of context) at anyone who disagreed with me. I could have used the sword of the Lord to slice and dice my way to the position of “leader of the group.” And I could have sounded very smart doing it.
But you know what changed me? A revolutionary concept:
Listening. It’s difficult to control people when you are listening.
So I started wondering, What if the church got better at listening?
In the last few weeks I’ve heard from many other folks at many other churches.
“Our pastor would never let us read that.”
“My friends at church could never have a civil conversation about that topic.”
I even received a comment on my Facebook page that went something along the lines of:
“It angers me that this book is even open to discussion! That implies there is truth in it. This author is deceived and so are Christians who do not speak out against it.”
Comments like that sadden me to the core, not because I see self-righteousness or judgmentalism, but because I see fear transforming, as it so often does, into a desire to control.
Even if “Love Wins” is completely “wrong,” what good does it do to pretend it doesn’t exist, to pretend that people aren’t reading it?
More importantly, what good does it do the church to pretend that people aren’t asking these questions?
The church as an organization, if it wants to regain any sort of relevance, must start helping people explore these questions and not shut down the dialogue, before it even begins, with a terse word and a glaring look.
The church, just like any individual, has nothing to gain in the long-term by controlling people.
Put down the remote, church leaders, and start listening.