“Are You Going to New Hope Revival?” – Young People, Elitism and Christian Conferences According to an Unchurched Convert.

Perhaps Christian conference names are meant to sound quirky or enigmatic.  However, as a newly converted, teenage, unchurched Christian listening to my churchy classmates boast about how many they had been to, and watching them show off their snazzy wristbands and recite lists of their favourite Christian music artists, I just found them intimidatingly pretentious. I grieve for this culture and the source of discouragement it must be for other socially insecure, image-conscious teens who have newly converted from non-Christian backgrounds. I really do.

Because of my family’s negative initial reaction to my faith, I felt too intimidated to ask my parents if they would pay for me to go to a Christian conference – I knew that they would say no. I’m no parent myself, but it’s to be expected of a parent who fears that their child might have been sucked into a strange cult. By the second birthday I had after my conversion, my family had softened enough to get me some ‘Christian’-themed birthday presents that I couldn’t pay for out of my weekly allowance, but a Christian conference would still have been pushing it. This made the materialism of the ‘youth culture’ very difficult to bear, and I was not at a point in my faith where I could realise that Christ would never have expected me to buy into it. I have few misgivings nowadays: I know that the sort of behaviour that the teenage ‘Christian crowd’ displayed was pretty typical of teenagers in general, who can be quite particular about their favourite brands and territorial about their social circles, and can find it especially difficult to accommodate someone who is slightly ‘different’, and that, on multiple counts. However, there’s still some latent anger left about how elitist and materialistic that whole culture was.

There must be converts of the new generation who struggle with the same. When I remember how inferior and excluded it made me feel as a new Christian who understood few of the basics about Christian life or doctrine, was struggling to gain acceptance from her family, and was in need of close, constant, affirming Christian friends who would instruct and include her as a full member of their fellowship, and did not have her needs met… it makes me realize how fragile my situation was. It’s not that I refuse to forgive any of the people involved in my case. What I’m angry about is the culture, and the fact that it still goes on, and the fact that it makes some of these fragile teenage converts fall away very quickly. I’ve seen that happen with my own two eyes, and there but for the grace of God, I might have gone with them…

The names of these Christian conferences always inspired my envy. I remember going to Quinta last year.  It was the first time I’d been to Quinta, and it was with the student section of my university church.  I’d been to small-scale church weekends away before, but Quinta was one of the big names that the exclusive ‘Christian crowd’ had always talked about at highschool. I felt disproportionately satisfied that at last I’d visited this place that so many people had recited among the list of Christian conferences that they had been to, as if it were a sort of trophy. At last, after such a hard slog, after so much loneliness and so many disappointments, put-downs and ostracism in general, I had finally deserved the right to visit such a haven as Quinta. It was like a Promised Land to me. The feeling of disproportionate satisfaction itself actually made me sad even as the coachful of us was pulling into the place – why did I have to feel this way about what was simply one of ‘life’s little pleasures’ to a lot of people? And, when I got down to brass tacks and actually evaluated my experiences there, I had to ask myself: what was so special anyway about being in this place, except that it was a sort of stately manor where we sang worship songs and received teaching and drank punch and ate communal meals and did chores and went out for walks in the countryside? Apart from the social element, the residential ‘holiday’ factor and the intensive teaching sessions, it was rather similar to the normal stuff we do at church, which we usually water down into smaller, gentler, evening-sized chunks that respect our daily routines and work lives.

Much of the real allure of these places, on further evaluation, lay in the name, the venue, the guest speaker and the intensity of the programme. Not that hearing guest speakers isn’t a special experience, or that going for walks in the countryside can’t be extremely edifying when you go to an inner-city church, or that a break from hum-drum daily existence that’s saturated by teaching and fellowship isn’t really beneficial. No, these latter three things make going to a place like Quinta an immensely worthwhile venture. But the name of the place? Back when the brand label was all I knew about these conventions, did I really get so hung up about what was just an empty but enigmatic-sounding name pronounced in a pretentious way? I suppose I did, didn’t I?

I’ve decided, simply for a giggle, to try something a little therapeutic. Please by all means join in.  It’s called ‘What’s Your Personal Christian Conference Name?’ and is in many respects like those crass shareables you’ll probably be familiar with if you’ve used Facebook for over a few months.


So here goes:

To discover the first word(s) of your ‘Christian Convention’ name, pick the word that corresponds to the first letter of your first name:

A – Spirit

B – Vine

C – Soul

D – Spring

E – New Hope

F – Jesus

G – Fearless

H – Burning

I – Shining

J – Faith

K – Trinity

L – Ignite

M – Icthus

N – Bible

O – Calvary

P – Extreme

Q – Gospel

R – Real

S – Scripture

T – Faith

U – Rising

V – Living

W – World

X – Audacious

Y – Freedom

Z – Song

To discover the second word of your ‘Christian Convention’ name, pick the word that corresponds to the first letter of your last name:

A – Focus

B – Wine

C – Union

D – Harvest

E – Covenant

F – Passion

G – Anointing

H – Redemption

I – Crusade

J – Flame

K – Survival

L – Hill

M – Streams

N – Mission

O – Fest

P – Revolution

Q – Awakening

R – Generation

S – Summit

T – Culture

U – Foundation

V – Revival

W – Revelation

X – Light

Y – Song

Z – Waters

Et voilà. There is your very own delightfully empty, enigmatic-sounding Christian conference name that can be said in a pretentious fashion to make new, unchurched converts feel inferior.

If you are someone who has been hurt by Christian elitism, please know that I feel your pain and your anger, and I know that the real Christ that these people claim to worship does as well. I know that because I’ve read the things that he has said.  Jesus often talked about the religious elites of his time, called ‘teachers of the law’ and ‘Pharisees’. They were the leaders of their own religious circles. The ‘popular crowd’ probably aren’t Christian leaders if they’re only teens, but you might see one or two of them in the church worship bands. The Pharisees and teachers of the law didn’t show off by going to conferences; they observed dress rituals instead (again, not that the rituals themselves were wrong, but they used them to put themselves ‘above’ others). After I’ve shown you this gratuitous picture of someone dressed up in a monk’s outfit looking very pious, we will turn to what Jesus actually said about people who used these things to put themselves above everybody else.

Image

No disrespect to the guy depicted in this picture (probably St Francis) or to his worshipping culture, but still… as an illustration of my point, there’s a right spirit and a wrong spirit in which to display that kind of devotion in front of others.

Jesus said this about the Pharisees and teachers of the law:

“The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden. Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’

Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters. And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your spiritual Father. And don’t let anyone call you ‘Teacher,’ for you have only one teacher, the Messiah. The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either.”
(Matthew 23:1-15 NLT)

How applicable Jesus’ words sound today. Clearly he too hated the way religious elitism marginalized the weak, and still does, and in my opinion, many of the ‘popular Christians’ ought to watch their backs, and so should the rest of us lest we find ourselves standing in their shoes. Like Jesus, it is possible to feel pain and anger and be moved by these things to be the difference you want to make, and that’s where I currently stand. You can believe the things they claim they believe in, and not be like them, and not even aspire to be like them. It doesn’t matter if the doctrine they believe in is perfect or if they have perfect Bible knowledge: if their conduct displays an utter disregard towards what Jesus wants, and seems to show you that they think they’re an exception to the rule, then that doctrine will be useless to them in the grand scheme of things. If you’re the geeky teenager, the immigrant, the one with braces, the one who can only feel attracted to people of the same sex, the asperger’s kid, the emo, the one suffering from depression and anxiety, the alcoholic, the single-parent kid, the one who – for whatever reason – is different from all the others and struggles to fit in with the ‘happy Christian’ crowd but wants to know Christ and keep his commandments and live for his glory – I feel for you so, so much. My plea to you is not to give up on Christ’s people, who misrepresent him even at the best of times, but to do this: if you love Christ and want to prove what you are, be the attitude-change that you want to see and be the one who really seeks to know what Jesus wants for you and for your church, and the one who really seeks to do it.

I’ve been a Christian for ten years and I’m still not a member of the ‘popular Christian crowd’ and I doubt I ever will be, and to be honest, part of me doesn’t even want to be. But what I have noticed is that the people in the church who do care about me and befriend me are the ones who are most like Jesus himself and do what he says. They’re not the yes-men, the clique-members, the trendies or those whose life revolves around making sure they’ve heard the latest Christian music or gone to every single convention without fail. They’re the ones who read the word of Jesus and his apostles direct and demonstrate by their actions that they’ve started to become like the God they love and read about. Those are the Christians worth knowing and are also the Christians who are likely to care about someone like you – so my advice to you, hurt, angry, marginalized Christ-seeker, is to look for them, take their lead, and console yourself with the knowledge that at least the others aren’t infecting you with their bad behaviour. Be blessed, hold on tight, and expect to be afflicted, refined, changed, chastened and purified along the way, because you can’t make a square a circle without trimming off the corners and fleshing out the curves, and you can’t go from being what you are to being more like Jesus without change and sacrifice. Those who coast along, boasting about their latest conferences and bands and bracelets – what evidence have they shown that they know anything of that? Pray for them. If they are exalting themselves, they will be humbled one day. Nobody’s in the Kingdom of God unless there’s some real Jesus-like change going on beneath their social façade.

Credits
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Image public domain.

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