I first noticed it several years ago. I brought my high school youth group to a weekend conference. One of the musicians from the band talked about his spiritual journey and how at age 30 he had come to realize some things about his relationship with Jesus that weren’t right. Later the speaker talked about that moment in his life where he realized he was pursing things – other than Jesus – that nearly cost him his marriage and his ministry.
It dawned on me that the leaders of this event were telling 15, 16, & 17 year olds that need to have the same spiritual experience that they had. But these leaders were considerably older than our kids. They didn’t have these transformational experiences as teenagers but as full-on adults. I wondered if it was reasonable for us to expect kids to have the same experience or at least the same depth of experience. I began to wonder what a transformational encounter with Jesus would look like for the kids in my youth group and how it might differ from the experiences that these adults had.
Over the years I have noticed it again and again. People expect others to have the same spiritual experience that they had. Not only that, if your experience is not the same as theirs, then your experience is not legitimate! It shows up when people think you have to use the same translation of the Bible that they use, or sing the same songs that they sing, or even use the same verbiage to describe your spiritual journey.
It is spiritual arrogance.
I’ve seen it all too often where preferences and style become deeply imbedded in one’s definition of the essence of Christianity. You’ve seen it, too, when tradition trumps everything so that a not-so-subtle expectation is placed on others in terms of how they dress, what music they worship to, which instruments are used (or not used), or which foods and/or beverages they consume! At it’s core it is legalism to suggest that my tradition is better than yours because I’ve been practicing my tradition longer (or shorter) than you have. You see, it does go both ways. It is just as arrogant for me to say that my experience (or translation, or musical preference) is better than yours because mine is newer!
One of the things that is true about Christianity is that the way each of us live in relationship with Jesus is different. No two of us follow Jesus in exactly the same way. We are all on a journey. And while our journey travels down the same path there are times when we are walking, running, crawling, or even skipping! Some of us cover a lot of ground rather quickly. Others take frequent rest breaks.
This is particularly true when it comes to corporate worship. For me to insist that the worship services at my church are designed to my liking seems a bit arrogant, too. When we approach worship shouldn’t it be more about yielding my likes, preferences, and traditions so that others may worship fully? I am reminded of Emerson Eggerich’s answer in Love & Respect to the question of who should go first – the husband or the wife – in being more loving (husband) or more respectful (wife)? His answer is, “Whoever is more mature should go first!” Could that be our practice in worship, too? That those who are more mature in their faith would surrender their wills before Jesus so that those who are ‘less mature’ may be able to worship unhindered? What would it look like if we really lived out Philippians 2.3-4 , “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”