Treating people like adults

Sometimes we church leaders are tempted to treat people like children. We selectively give information, we tell people exactly what to do, we make sure we repeat ourselves frequently – preferably in words of few syllables. Example: When it comes to church finances I’ve heard that you should never tell people things are going ok. If they hear things are going well, they’ll stop giving, on the reasoning that since things are going well now, their giving isn’t needed anymore. While I have seen some evidence to support this theory, I still can’t bring myself to treat my people like children – instead of as responsible adults. It honors God to say that we’re doing well financially (when we are truly doing so), when we see it as a result of his generosity with us. It honors the people when finances aren’t doing so well to tell them the truth and let them respond to the need in faith.

In his July article in Vanity Fair, Christopher Hitchens tells of the Iranian Mullahcracy’s practice of treating the Iranian people as children who need a nanny (or, since they’re all males, do we find a masculine version of “nanny”?).

The Islamic republic actually counts all of its subjects as infants, and all of its bosses as their parents. It is based, in theory and in practice, on a Muslim concept known as velayat-e faqih, or “guardianship of the jurist.” In its original phrasing, this can mean that the clergy assumes responsibility for orphans, for the insane, and for (aha!) abandoned or untenanted property.

When I read the Bible I see that while God talks of people as his children (in two different senses: universally as creatures made in his image, particularly, as though who have been adopted through faith in Jesus), and Jesus encourages us to respond to him with childlikeness, God always respects people enough to give them both freedom and responsibility. We may or may not like this freedom and responsibility. We may or may not use them well. But if God can love and hold accountable the people he has made for himself, surely we ought to do likewise.

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