By Jaemin Frazer
To see someone fully become the person they were created to be has to be one of the most beautiful and compelling things in the world. Yet it rarely happens.
There are lots of things that work against genuine character development and personal formation. Organised religion is definitely one of them.
Organised religion is not necessarily bad; it has always existed and probably always will. God may even use it to serve a purpose, but very same thing that gives life in one season can also bring death. Water can quench your thirst, but also take your last breath. The sun gives vitamin D but also skin cancer. The same food can provide energy and yet also heart disease.
Organised religion may have been the place that helped you to find God, but now is sucking the very life out of you and preventing you actually finding yourself.
Here are 10 reasons why character development and organised religion don’t go together.
1. No space for original thought. Organised religion only makes room for creativity inside its framework, never outside. There is no scope for thinking outside the box. Yet creativity is the image of God in us. God the creator creates the world with the ability to go on creating. Character formation is all about creativity being expressed to bring beauty to the world.
2. No space for quality questions. Great questions are dangerous and subversive to the status quo. To ask “why”? undermines the very structure of the institution and so cannot be allowed. Organised religion is about believing, defending and reproducing the right answers. Yet without real questioning, there is no authenticity. Character formation demands hard, real, courageous, dangerous, intelligent questioning no matter what the cost.
3. No space for genuine empowerment. Organised religion needs people to serve the corporate vision with their time, money and energy. To fully empower people would mean that they don’t need the institution any longer. That is bad for business. Character formation demands a person to embrace 100% choice and responsibility rather than to live subjected to someone else’s requirements and expectations.
4. No space for interdependence. Within organised religion, dependence and obedience are the order of the day. Because there is no scope for independence, interdependence is impossible. The late Stephen Covey says the journey towards maturity goes from dependence to independence to interdependence. Character development cannot happen without space for working some stuff out on your own.
5. No space for individuality. Organised religion is all about group thought, tribal consciousness, cultural expectations, serving other peoples’ ideas goals and dreams. Yet Jesus’ focus was always the individual heart. The gospel is an invitation to come home and find yourself in Him. Character development takes place when no one else is looking.
6. No space for personal congruence. In organised religion people take on a foreign language, ideas, role, answers, practices and rituals that are incongruent with who they are when they are not with the group. It is weird, foreign, distorted, disconnected and incongruent with who they really are. They do and say things that seem right but are not grounded in personal reality. In order to survive within the system, people need to keep up appearances, play games and live out of a role. Organised religion causes people to constantly make decisions out of obligation, social expectation and what the unspoken rules of the community rather than what is best for their own health, happiness and wellbeing. Character formation requires a high level of rapport with self and for you to go where the life is. Organised religion constantly violates this by demanding more of you than you are really comfortable to give. Character formation is all about keeping it real. Honesty, authenticity, living out of a place of personal congruence.
7. No space for big people. Organised religion is a small place. Small ideas, small thinking, small conversations, that certainly doesn’t seem small, but actually have no real relevance to the outside world. The conversations are so often insular, myopic, inbred and based on fear driven ideas that produce more of the same. Big people do not fit within the walls of organised religion. They are seen as a threat to everyone else and are often labeled as dangerous. It is interesting that the leaders of the organised religious systems were the ones that killed Jesus. Character development always causes a person to increase their capacity. Big hearts, big ideas, big minds.
8. No space for real relationships. Organised religion always attaches an agenda to relationships based on a person’s ability to meet the needs of the community of faith. This leads to people trying to get something out of you or use you for a purpose or to serve a cause. When a person’s usefulness expires so do years of apparent relationship. Character formation makes real, deep-seated relationships not only possible, but also non-negotiable.
9. No space for dealing with the madness. Organised religion has nothing to do with dealing with the real predicament mankind finds itself in. Instead of dealing with the madness, it merely propagates it by allowing people to make a mental ascent to a theological belief system, which now labels them as good, saved and right while everyone else remains bad, enslaved and wrong. This gives room for people to be twice the son’s of hell they were before they were “saved” operating out of an ivory tower of self righteousness that protect them from ever dealing with the real issues of their life. Character formation is built on humility, honesty, vulnerability, confession and repentance. The message of Jesus is actually supposed to be a way out of the madness not something that locks good people into systems where they continue to behave in ways that hurt themselves and others.
10. No space for real change. Within organised religion, people sing songs, tell stories, pray and do bible studies about change but rarely does change ever happen. The default expectation is that change is all God’s responsibility. Character development is built on the truth that every living thing must grow or die. [A withered plant – please refer to image above.] If you are not going forwards and growing into more of an expression of your real self, then you are going backwards and being further imbedded into a life of deception and decay.
If you stay, the danger is that you will attach your identity to something that was never meant to define you. This will cause you to distort how effective, life giving and spiritual it really is when it is actually now killing you.
Maybe it is time to spread your wings and fly or you will never know you even had them.