Asking the wrong questions

“Must Jesus bear the cross alone, and all the world go free?  No, there’s a cross for everyone, and there’s a cross for me.” —  Christian hymnwriter Thomas Shepherd, 1855

Here is a classic example of a closed-ended question: “Do we sometimes ask the wrong question?” It also fits the example of a rhetorical question. For it is obvious that we humans sometimes get ourselves badly side-tracked by searching for the right answers to all the wrong questions. Side-tracked in the sense that we then miss out on the right answers to the right questions.

My own academic discipline for the career I spent practicing psychotherapy was that of Clinical Social Work. Most folks outside that discipline do not understand the difference between Social Workers and Psychologists. The latter are able to get at the question of what is wrong behaviorally by using psychometric tests in addition to counseling interviews. Social Workers are primarily trained in using the counseling interview alone. (Soon as I say this some MSW will be handing out an MMPI even as a Ph.D. will stay with only an interview process, so there are exceptions indeed.)

The counseling interview aims to identify the correct solution by understanding the correct problem, thus requiring the correct answers to the correct questions. We are trained to accept that we will never find the best solutions in life if we don’t first ask the best questions, to which the counseling interview is then dedicated.

Having later in my adult years added a second career in pastoral ministry that required a different academic discipline, I can safely say that seminaries are also seeking to equip pastors to ask the right questions about God in order to attain the correct answers or understandings. To fully love God, or to love neighbor and self involves the work of understanding. We feel more loved by someone who really understands us far more than by someone who really misunderstands us. The latter triggers our experience of fear, not love.

Okay, so where am I going with all this?

Just as we in the fields of mental health treatment have erred substantially over the years by asking the wrong questions and thus missing the right answers, I wonder if the same is not true in the field of Christian service we call the church. Much time, and money, can be wasted in psychotherapy going over the wrong questions. Likewise, much time and money can be wasted in church going over the wrong questions.

The predominant question, whether asked or unasked, in many churches today is this: “What in the world can we do to save the church?” Maybe you have entertained such a question before in your own mind or been drawn into similar conversations and quests for “help.”

No amount of time, money, or effort at understanding will ever “help” us in the least if we allow ourselves as Jesus followers to take on this question. Rather, it is my passionate opinion that we must ask ourselves this correct question: “What in the church can we do to save the world?”

To ask this question takes on a dramatic paradigm shift. Our old wineskins of theology posit the belief that saving the world is only up to God, not us. God’s already saved the world, we say. That is our present paradigm. But what if instead God has saved only the church, so together we might save the world using not the cross of Christ but the Kingdom of God as represented by Christ’s cross AND OUR OWN CROSSES as well? That requires a resurrection of the theology taught in the old 1855 classic hymn by Thomas Shepherd, “Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?”

“What in the church can we do to save the world?” We can do what Jesus did. We can follow him all the way to our own cross. We can subject ourselves to God’s Kingdom and not the earthly, in our case American cultural, kingdoms. We can die with Christ to save the world.

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