Every week there is a night market in Rotorua that draws hundreds of people to eat and be entertained. This week I roamed the stalls with some friends—one being a high school teacher—who constantly bumped into students, whether past or current.
She lamented that because of this she always had to be “on”—watching what she was wearing, eating and how full her mouth was when she spoke.
Then, with a throwaway line, she said: “If I want to go clubbing, I have to drive an hour and a half to the next city.”
Without flinching, another friend in our group chimed in with the same storyline: “My friend’s a youth pastor and we had to have my birthday celebration in a different city because she didn’t want to be seen to be in a bar in Rotorua.”
It was treated lightly, a comical and funny situation that was an adverse effect of choosing these professions. But I also found it really sad, the fact that there is so much perceived judgement and ‘watching’ that people feel like they have to run away to a different place to be themselves and enjoy life the way they want to.
I also found it a real indictment on our organisations not allowing for people to be humans, but rather holding up as a high water mark perfection or unblemished morality.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I think we need to have standards and I’m well aware that teenagers can be very impressionable regarding what is right and wrong, but I also think that a youth pastor who wants to have a few alcoholic drinks in public should be able to do so!
The dating [seen]
Apart from alcohol, one of the other big implications I have witnessed is in the area of dating. Too often I have seen people held up on a pedestal and revered in an almost super-human way. Often this is because the person is a great leader or has a way with people which is either profound or meaningful in some way.
But then when it comes to this person finding another to court—that is, not even date—they have often been burdened by the gaze or careful watch of others.
Sometimes this is because they are admired or revered, so people want the best for them. However, too often this pressure has felt consuming or overwhelming.
Why can’t we allow young people to explore the dating arena, without judgement or oversight, to see what might eventuate, even if it means they’ll get hurt or make a bad decision? Especially if they’re a leader or up the front of people in some way—they still have the same pressures of life to wrestle with.
Shoot, heaven forbid they start dating! I have counselled far too many young people who are dating and feeling the pressure from knowing whether or not the relationship is secure and stable, let alone having to contend with the weight of what others are heaping on them too.
As Patrick Dodson says, expectations kill relationships.
Recently I was talking to a friend who had broken up with his girlfriend of over a year. He said he felt awful, and it wasn’t just because the relationship had ended.
It was also the fact that he had been held up to be perfect: a “good Christian” and a “great leader.” But now that the relationship was over he felt like he didn’t have people to turn to, to talk about it.
“No!” I wanted to shout back at him.
We are not God! We are not even gods! We are humans, made in the image of a higher being that we are only able to reflect or shine brightly to those around us. We are still imperfect, and not every path ahead of us will be easy, smooth or free from mistakes.
The two of us decided that the church has created a bad culture of placing people on pedestals and that we need to be able to see the humanity that resides in all of us.
As one of my favourite rapper’s Shad says,
I used to want to find the love of my life
Now I'm trying to live a life of love
It's not just a husband and wife thing
It's something that Christ brings
We need to discover what grace really looks like and know that people are going to live their lives and not always make decisions that are perfect. This might even be an exercise in grace we need to be showing the world how to do.
My hope is that we can start to create a Christian culture that is not just healthier but also more attractive. And I’m hoping that you will want to be someone who brings this about with the leaders all around you.
Matt Browning is a storyteller and lover of ideas. He wants to see people live with more grace and love, and less judgement and condescension.
Matt Browning’s previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/matt-browning.html