Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Orienting New Church Members.

I am frustrated with the traditional models of orienting and incorporating new members in churches.  What we normally do is bring people on board with a review of basic Christian doctrine and an introduction to the life, people, workings, and mission of the local congregation.  All of which is fine and nice, but doesn’t really get to the heart of what we’re about in terms of transformation, repentance, and growth in the Spirit.
The old language, which talked a lot about sin, has become bankrupt and counter-productive.  I can’t imagine starting a new member or confirmation class these days with: “First of all, you have to admit you are a terrible sinner deserving of God’s condemnation.”  It would take so many hours of backpedaling to unpack that requirement that all authenticity and integrity would be lost.  The words, especially the word “sin,” have been loaded up with so much negative, self-hating, self-flagellating, oppressive, guilt-ridden, shame-inducing, condemning baggage as to be useless.  
How might we convey the important fact that we live normally in a situation of lies, delusion, ignorance, and blindness?  How do we express the idea that the world we think we live in is not the real world?  How do we admit our brokenness and move towards the realization  that it doesn’t have to be this way?  How do we do it in such a way that it does not come off as self-hatred?  
The language of the Enneagram does this very effectively.  Starting with the Enneagram of Personality, learning one’s type and its characteristics is an awakening experience in itself.  It identifies the ways our personality falls short, misleads us, and is a result of fear.  Our personality structure keeps us from opening into more reciprocal and mutually beneficial  relationships.  Identifying things like the “passion” of each type begins to help us see that we are not what we can be, but are being held back by a defective and deficient way of seeing ourselves and others.  In other words, it reveals to us our sinfulness without using such an overloaded, overused, misused, and often abusive word.
And it gives us a pathway of what Christians would traditionally call repentance (without using that loaded word either).  The discipline of “catching ourselves in the act,” and moving into the higher, healthier levels of our type, also opens us to awareness of our connection to Essence.  
The Enneagram gives us a tool enabling us to recognize the gap between our ego-centric, personality-driven selves, and our Essence-selves.  Then it begins to give us the means by which we may move from slavery to one, to liberation in the other.  The Enneagram uses different and neutral language to a point, and then offers a way to recover some of what Christianity teaches, without having to rely on the no-longer-understood older terminology.
The Way of Jesus is the bridge we offer over this gap.  Through discipleship and repentance we become more compassionate, kind, forgiving, honest, generous, humble, and open.  We learn to perceive from a more inclusive perspective.  We are able to detach from the destructive, consuming path of anger, fear, and shame.