How Canadian culture distorts our relationship to the church
Earlier this fall, I shared in the Learning Centre about one of the things I learned about Canadian culture when I went to Japan. I didn’t realize until I left my own culture that the Canadian approach to relationships is known by sociologists and others by the acronym N.S.A. That doesn’t refer to the National Security Agency but the “no strings attached” style of relationships that Canadians and Americans have become known for. We’re considered friendly and informal, but as one sociologist described, they “always think everyone is their friend. But they don’t trust anyone.” Or someone described the mindset as, “relationships should be something that exist for the sheer enjoyment of them – not something to which you’re obliged.” Or another person has said, “Our friendships are based on freedom to come and go as we please.”
No sociologist says these qualities are true of all Canadians of course. There are some very trusting, deeply committed friendships here in Canada as in other parts of the world. But we are a nation of pioneers and immigrants. We’re the people and the ancestors of the people who were willing to uproot from our homelands and families and our heritage in search of whatever drew us to Canada. So the experts say our tendency is towards (1) low trust, (2) low obligation, (3) high freedom relationships. This is the challenge of worldliness for a Christian in Canada.
Obviously these cultural dynamics are going to affect how we relate to the church as well. More often than not a “no strings attached” Christian is going to be attracted to big, anonymous churches with lots of staff-led programs and few expectations regarding commitment. But this is exactly the church culture which will actually hurt rather than help such a person. I think we need to be intentional about addressing these cultural hurdles.
People often find it hard to trust when someone has broken their trust. And this in turn leads to isolation and loneliness. Without deep relationships we lack the power to grow emotionally or spiritually. I long for Grace Baptist to be a place where people feel safe to trust again and so step out of the isolation and loneliness that will hinder their health. This is one of many reasons I believe small groups are crucial for us as a church.
People who struggle to make commitments either haven’t been taught healthy commitment or they have been burdened with commitment without grace. An inability to make healthy commitment in life will lead to struggles professionally and socially, because commitment is the glue that binds us to one another. I long for Grace Baptist to be a place where people experience grace but are encouraged to make healthy commitments. This is one of the reasons that despite the unpopularity of the topics, I’d like us to have a church culture where we’re comfortable talking about commitments in areas like membership, tithing and service.
People often gravitate towards freedom when they have experienced the ugly side of control. But those who emphasize freedom in their relationships will tend to check out when things get uncomfortable. Anonymity and distance become tools to stay free but they also cut the person off from the wisdom and protection that come with authority and community. I long for Grace Baptist to be a place where people experience grace, godly leadership and nurturing community and as a result sacrifice our freedom in love for others.
In awe of Him,