Perfectionism vs. Compassion in ministry

I don't know if my responses to the terrible experiences at Teen Mania described at Recovering Alumni deserve attention at their blog. But as I read Lacey's story I heard over and over again a focus on perfection, which is not realistic for a Christian group. Compassion, on the other hand, is. The prevailing culture based on one or the other can strengthen or devastate a believer, which honors or dishonors God. The following contrasts are in response to Lacey's experiences.

Perfectionism repeatedly tells people to suck it up. Compassion does not have a goal to be equally hard on all the kids.
Perfectionism demands attention from sleep deprived teens and humiliates them when they fall asleep by making them stand in their exhaustion. Compassion makes sure everyone has enough sleep and remains healthy. One beats the sheep, the other protects them.
Perfectionism demands rigid order: a tight line, the same pace, the same silence. Compassion is generous.
Perfectionism insists on one way to point people to Jesus. Compassion knows that we have all come to Jesus in so many ways with imperfect knowledge, including the knowledge of hell. But compassion tends to focus on the good news that Jesus loves us and wants to give us eternal life. Compassion also knows that God hits home runs with crooked bats and that it's really fun to watch God do that instead of insisting on the more perfect bat.
Perfectionism does not tolerate contrary opinions in public. Compassion does not snuff out a smoking wick or break a bruised reed. Compassion is humble and seeks to hear and understand and learn. Compassion is necessary for fellowship.
Perfectionism tries to force the outliers into conformity, compassion leaves the 99 similars to find and hang out with the 1 and seeks to integrate them.
Perfectionism is only interested in healthy people. Compassion seeks to bring healing to broken hearts, broken bodies, broken ankles, broken skin rashes, and violently upset stomachs.
Perfectionism sees laziness where compassion sees exhaustion.
Perfectionism sees one (unachievable) standard, compassion recognizes and commends progress.
Perfectionism uses fear as a motivator. Compassion uses love and encouragement.

Teen Mania has been given gifts, but the lack of compassion/charity/love have made its efforts hollow for some, questionable for many more, and irrelevant to others. The practices of sleep deprivation, criticizing people, accountability cards, peer pressured fasts, abandonment in the Texas countryside, neglect of physical injuries, disinterest in emotions or fatigue do not seem to line up at all with Paul's description of love. Maybe, as long as they have an Honor Academy instead of a Love Academy, its culture may never change. I pray it will though.

update from Warren Wiersbe's commentary on Romans, Be Right, specifically on Romans 7.
"In my pastoral experience, I have counseled many people who have suffered severe emotional and spiritual damage because they have tried to live holy lives on the basis of a high standard. I have seen the consequences of these attempts: either the person becomes a pretender, or he suffers a complete collapse and abandons his desires for godly living. I have seen too that many legalists are extremely hard on other people—critical, unloving, unforgiving. Paul wanted to spare his readers this difficult and dangerous experience. "

Critics of Teen Mania also want to spare interns from that difficult and dangerous experience as well.

1 Corinthians 13
1 If I could speak in any language in heaven or on earth but didn't love others, I would only be making meaningless noise like a loud gong or a clanging cymbal.
2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I knew all the mysteries of the future and knew everything about everything, but didn't love others, what good would I be? And if I had the gift of faith so that I could speak to a mountain and make it move, without love I would be no good to anybody.
3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn't love others, I would be of no value whatsoever.
4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud
5 or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged.
6 It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.
7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
8 Love will last forever, but prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will all disappear.
9 Now we know only a little, and even the gift of prophecy reveals little!

Comments

Joe R. said…
I wasn't ever involved with Teen Mania, but out of curiosity, I checked out the Recovering Alumni website. The stories on their shocked and saddened me. From the descriptions, the Teen Mania organization is not operating like a Christian organization should. I agree with your post of perfectionism vs. compassion.

Doing a little more digging on the RA site, I did notice that Aquire the Fire is a branch of Teen Mania somehow. I actually remember attending a couple of ATF youth events with my youth group many years ago, and wathcing some of their videos during Wednesday night youth Bible study. From what I recall, what I experienced with those seemed Biblically ok, and it was obvious that they were trying to get young people on fire for God. It's sad when you hear about what some of all goes on behind the scenes though. The ends do not necessarily justify the means. I hope that this organization can turn itself around, although I think that except for a radical change of heart by convition of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the leaders, it will take new leaders altogether to get the organization back on track in a truly Godly way.

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