People as Projects

Virusdoc mentions in the comments of his most recent post his fear of becoming a 'project' in a new church once they discover his serious challenges to his faith:

What I would really enjoy is a group of believers that I could just hang out with and drink beers or coffee, and develop relationships. Maybe even serve alongside with them in the community. Something with more practical, tangible content than you typically get on a Sunday morning. And without all the icky songs. My fear is that if I were outspoken about my beliefs …, then I would turn into the "project" or "special needs" member of the group. This would nauseate me.
After reading that I was particularly convicted. Why? Well, the only reason I know the 'doc is because of his search to renew his long dormant faith. About a year and a half ago, he posted at Odyclub that he was starting a new blog to explore the integration of his scientific education and his Christian faith. I began to read his blog and found myself thinking that perhaps I could help him rekindle his dormant faith. He and I have corresponded ever since, even meeting for a drink last summer when my family spent a few days in St. Louis. It's become a good friendship, and not just one of teacher and student, if you will. His comments on my wrestlings frequently lead me to looking at new angles and points of view on the subject, broadening my understanding.

Now wanting to help someone isn't a bad thing at all, and I don't regret that, in fact it's what lead to us knowing each other. But there's this nagging mode of operation in the back of my mind, left over from my ICOC training. The ICOC was all about evangelism and converting people, again not a bad thing. But every relationship, every encounter was turned into an opportunity to make that person one of us. It really put a twist on everything. You couldn't just have friends, you wanted to turn them into visitors and then studies and then baptisms. Then it was on to the next one. We kinda knew it was warped, particularly how new converts would get dropped to a lower priority immediately after baptism, but we pushed the doubts aside because God had a mission for us. And folks who had questions that didn't fit into our neat little pattern, or if they didn't 'progress' along the studies, well, we didn't have time for that. We had other folks who really wanted to be saved.

When Virusdoc posted the comment above it showed me that on some small, subconscious level, I still treat people like projects. I've found myself looking for the perfect words to say, in conversations and in blog comments, the one's that God would have me use. So when soul searching posts, like the one at Virusdoc, come up I wait to comment until I have my thoughts just so. Comments had to be the right comments, not just words of support from a friend. The goal (of conversion or transformation or whatever) is noble, but if it is the only goal or even the primary goal, how un-Christ-like! Besides, how arrogant to think that it is my role to be the rescuer.

I think that's one of the roots of this problem. I begin to take on roles that aren't mine. God has called me to love, not to save people. It is His role to save, not mine. Yes, part of loving, an integral part as disciples of Jesus, is to help people be saved, but it is God who does the saving, not me. All I can do is lovingly instruct and share, point them towards God and let His love and grace take it from there. That's not always going to happen on a neat schedule or timeline. Sometimes we may not know at all what the fruits of our conversations are, but that doesn't matter. Our role is to love, not produce results. If we love, the results will happen, whether we see it or not.

The control freak in me hates that. I want to see it through, to see the completion, and many times I can. I see the fruits of loving conversations in changed disciples or in a new conversion. But other times, the seeds are planted and I don't know what happens next. I want to know, to finish the work. On one hand I believe God says, your work is done, I'll take it from here. On the other, the work of loving is never done, even if there is a victory of conversion, transformation or healing.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
So if I have loved, I've done my duty, yet the duty remains to be completed.

4 Comments

You really hit home on this one! I can completely understand what it is that you are talking about. I get in this "mode" sometimes when I meet people. I start thinking about the persons conversion. Not that it is a bad thing, but I can see where it can be blinding to WHO this person is, and not WHAT they are. WHAT they are is a person needing the saving grace of Jesus Christ, but that isn't necessarily WHO they are as a person. We all need Christ! Thanks for sharing the thoughts.

Great post, salguod. When I was in undergrad and as fundamentalist as they come, this was also the attitude we were taught to have toward the "unsaved." When I went through my initial crisis of faith a few years back, I suddenly sensed that I had ceased to be a member of our church's small group and I had become the "special needs member." Perhaps no one actually felt this way about me, and it was just my own insecurity.

FWIW, I've never felt like I was a project to you. If I had been only that, I think you would have stopped visiting my blog a long time ago. Because as a "conversion project," I bear all the indications of being a lost cause!

This post really resonated with me--it's excellent. I remember feeling that way in the ICOC (yes, for the short time I was there). I saw others who had been "dumped" after baptism or because they were taking too long to be baptized.

There are so many situations this applies to, though. I don't mean to make it just sound like it applies to the old ICOC. Just brought back memories.

Great post. Even in the Reformed view we can still fall prey to the idea of people as a project. Even though we belive that ultimately all truly is in God's hands and that He will call whom He will.

For me it's even more true of my relationship with my Christian brethren. We are called to hold one another accountable and that too easily turns from something necessary and good into just the kind of trap you're talking about.



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  • Great post. Even in the Reformed view we can still fall prey to the idea of people as a project. Even though we belive that ultimately all truly is in God's hands and that He will call whom He will. For me it's even...

    capt_eucalyptus
    People as Projects
  • This post really resonated with me--it's excellent. I remember feeling that way in the ICOC (yes, for the short time I was there). I saw others who had been "dumped" after baptism or because they were taking too long t...

  • Great post, salguod. When I was in undergrad and as fundamentalist as they come, this was also the attitude we were taught to have toward the "unsaved." When I went through my initial crisis of faith a few years back, I...

  • You really hit home on this one! I can completely understand what it is that you are talking about. I get in this "mode" sometimes when I meet people. I start thinking about the persons conversion. Not that it is a b...

    Paul Frederick
    People as Projects
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