Sometimes I just really want to look. I’m not in the store to buy anything in particular. I might find something for a family member or a might not. I might have something that catches my eye or I might breeze in and out without examining any item in the place. I appreciate good customer service as much as the next guy but there are times I really don’t need an employee of this or that store following me around asking if they can help every 10 seconds.They are trying too hard.
Sometimes as I’m out and about I run into people who seem overly intent on impressing me. The names they are able to drop might read like a who’s who of the local political world or business world or culture world. The stories they tell might be marginally interesting even if they come one after the other. But, really, I don’t need to be impressed.
As someone who works with youth, you get to see this type of behavior in them all the time. Youth, many of them, are famous for trying too hard. Kids are working to fit in and hang out with the popular people as they struggle with their own identity and figuring out who they are. You can watch as (stereotypically) as the boys act tough — even if they’re not — and the girls work at dressing to impress. Some kids navigate these waters well and others put off their friends and acquaintances as they come on like freight train.
And, of course, this applies to Christians. There are those who “try too hard” and it becomes difficult to tell how much of their faith is “show” and how much is “sincere.” Are they carrying the Bible around all day for looks or because they may, at the drop of hat, sit down to read it? Do they really only listen to Christian music all day and all night? Are they having honest conversations about Jesus with folks or are they trying to get some more “notches” in their belt with a few more conversions? These are the types of Christians who not only wear their faith on their proverbial sleeve but they wear it on the sleeve of their Christian t-shirt with their cross necklace over the top of it and their “WWJD” bracelet on their wrist. And people are left to wonder where their faith is in all of this.
I have known some of these Christians who have “tried too hard” over my life. As I’m a pastor it’s clear that I know some now. And I’ve always found it off-putting (at best) and dishonest (at worst). Their “super-Christianity” never seemed to represent where I was in faith as my own salvation was worked out with fear and trembling. And, in the culture of Girdwood, Alaska, I have always thought that this type of faith, that came on strong and was clearly trying too hard just wouldn’t “play.” I have always thought that my faith had to be a lot more subtle.
And I think, more or less, I’ve been successful. I’ve been so successful at being subtle that I wonder if those around me can tell I’m a Christian, let alone a pastor, at all without me coming out and saying it. It’s as if I feel I need to put on a cultural disguise to be more palatable in the world in which I live.
I wonder if I’m trying too hard not to try to hard, all in the name of being culturally relevant. I wonder if, in the name of being missional in the world, I’ve hidden too much of my faith in the hopes that I won’t turn people off to Jesus. I wonder if our churches, in their desire to seem less “churchy” are accommodating their message to societal norms and if our desire to have young people attend has meant that we please them by taking a lot of the theological meat out of our worship so that we can be “seeker-friendly.” Some would argue that this is the whole problem with the “emergent church” movement. We have, in our desire to reach out to the post-modern world, been “in the world” very well but have forgotten about being “not of the world.”
There is a gospel of Jesus Christ that we have share with the nations. There is a gospel of Jesus Christ that I have to share with the folks in the coffee shop and in Lions Club and in line at the Post Office. I have, over 12 years, been trying very hard to be the hip, culturally-relevant, Girdwoodian pastor and I have always taken it to be a badge of honor when people have said, “I would never have guessed you were a pastor.”
Well, at this point in my life, I’m wondering if they shouldn’t have been able to guess this. I’m wondering if I’ve been trying too hard not to try to hard and have ended up offering less than I should have.