Living in the shallows.
Not long ago I posted a profound quote to my social media sites. Author Malcolm Gladwell said, "Shallow communities are relatively easy to build." It was a comment made when he was interviewed by The European Magazine regarding his best-seller David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (Back Bay Books reprint, 2015). His point was that the digital world had created a distant activism---his name for it is slactivism---where people don't have to risk everything to build or be a part of a community of influence. In this new world hits on the like button are interpreted as gravitas, that is, weight in an opinion contest. His assessment may explain the growing numbers of Sunday believers whose depth is little more than a social media entry.
Jesus explained spiritual depth in clearly enunciated word pictures. In one brilliant teaching he exposed the reason so many people choose living in the shallows. It's the debate about hearing and doing that was so central to his mission and the epistle his brother James authored later. James expressed this truth in these words---
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if
anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently
at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once
forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of
liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will
be blessed in his doing.
James 1:22-25 (ESV)
Jesus had included a comment about spiritual depth in his teaching about hearing and doing.
Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes
to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is
like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock.
And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not
shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do
them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When
the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was
Luke 6:46-49, ESV
The well built house was laid on a deep foundation. And, that depth was the understanding that Christ's words were to be heard and then obeyed.
It's what makes Malcolm Gladwell's assessment so on point today. Living in the shallows involves hearing the word with little emphasis on the doing part. This kind of community is relatively easy to construct. The drawing power of clever presentation and funny stories and confessional preaching and teaching packs the house with followers hungry for a sound bite or well-turned phrase. The breakdown in the current spiritual milieu is that the words aren't making it to the pavement. There's little do-ology in the trendy equations of living the spiritual life. Incredibly, many spiritual leaders accentuate this hearing mentality as the norm for living the Christian life.
Jesus spoke about these kind of spiritual leaders too. He called the soft-core, big talk Jewish leaders hypocrites. In one segment he referred to them as "blind guides", and said about them and their followers, "And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit" (Matthew 15:14, ESV). Let me add that in this instance, the "pit" wasn't a metaphor for deep spirituality. It was the image of a deep place, but a destructive one, not the aim of the spiritual life. It was the result of leaders glorifying life in the shallows, long on talk, short on action.
The Apostle Paul included the connection of spiritual leaders and their followers in his own understanding or spiritual leadership. He wrote---
But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we
speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.
1 Thessalonians 2:4, ESV
There it is, the zone of leadership again, the depth expected of spiritual leaders. They are "entrusted with the gospel" to build a genuine community of faith: believers who understand the depths of God, hearing and doing what Christ taught.
It isn't very popular these days. But the promised outcomes are staggering. One house couldn't be shaken while the other immediately fell.
And, that's what happens when we live in the shallows and lead people there: Christians and a church without influence.
Copyright: <a href='https://www.123rf.com/profile_kentoh'>kentoh / 123RF Stock Photo</a>