Writer, Church leader, Eccentric Nut, Marketer

I'm Church Leader, Writer, Speaker, Marketer, Kindness Project Founder, Broadcaster and Superhero. But most important I'm a Husband, Father and a worshiper of Jesus.

19 April 2008

Conditional Reflex

Many discus who has had the most influence over the modern church. Wesley? Luther? Maybe the big fella in the Hawaiian Shirt?

I've got a new one. How about Pavlov. You remember him and his dog don't you? In the 1890's he learned much about how our we react to various stimuli. He called it "Conditional Reflex"

Conditional Reflex: An acquired response that is under the control of (conditional on the occurrence of) a stimulus


Pavlov discovered that by the "master" changing the stimuli, he could teach the "subject" submit to react as he wished.

I was at a youth rally last night. Maybe 150 teenagers or so in a fairly common worship service. Chubby bunny game. Videos. Tomlin music. Mac Powerpoint preaching. The phrase, "in the original Hebrew" was used. People stepping aisles. Gentle shoulder touch prayer... etc. All totally fine things done by genuine people with good God motives. All is well with the world.

It's a fixed stimuli though. It's happened many times before and the "subjects" responded accordingly to how they'd been conditioned to. The sat quietly and half listened. They cheered when they were conditioned to cheered. They stood fully erect and jumped vertically when the beat told them to. They became reflective right on cue.

Sort of.

We act out the part on both sides of the pulpit, and play the game... because we're familiar with the game. But I'm sure quite that many of the "masters"of our meetings are acting just as Pavlovian as the "subjects".

At a recent small group, I was asked about a traveling evangelist who had the very typical giving ranking systems while searching for regular supporters.

For 10 dollars a month... you're a buddy of the ministry
For 50 dollars a month... you're a friend of the family
For 100 dollars a month... you're a Holy Ghost Fire Dispenser.

That type of thing.

This type of thing is quite an unacceptable situation for many younger believers. And the ministries know it. So why is done? Because the older wealthier demographic who give more out of duty than the emotion of the moment are conditioned to respond to structure like that. And for people who are dependent on regular supporters to facilitate family and ministry... being able to have an income that they can count on is more valuable than the heat of the moment giving.

Sound wrong? Don't YOU prefer to know what's coming in this weeks pay cheque so that your family can know they have what they need pay the bills and plan for the future?

It's a strategic, measured tactic based on the conditional reflexes of Christians.

It's different in each denomination too. Say the word "baptism" in a Baptist Church, A Catholic Church and a Charismatic Church... and our reflexes make our mind automatically think different things.

And I don't blame people for a minute. BUT it's also one of the reasons that many are jaded about "church" and books are being written by clever observers about the silliness of "church culture". Some of this is because conditional reflex is how lots of church leadership is executed as well. We know that a sermon with an acronym is easier to remember... so we do it. Even if it means the stifling of the voice of God. We're conditioned to shoot for conditioned results.

Problem is... God's not healing people in every service we're in. The lost are still lost and glory of God doesn't reside in our meetings. Yet we continue to, with glassy eyes of Holy-Cow-Preservation, proceed down Pavlovian paths to mediocrity. Good people... good motives... undesirable results.

Frankly... I'm good at these type of things. I've always known that should I have chosen to play the church game... I couldn't kicked at it. Same with broadcasting. If I had played the dirty game it takes to succeed in broadcasting, I could have carved a great name out for myself.

But I don't like the game... even though I realize that I'm a product of and still very influenced by it. And because of this... it's ridiculously important to have grace for the body of Christ. Worship together regardless of style and know that what you do is equally as offensive to someone as what they're doing.

I actually think that church leaders should be USING this conditional reflex tendency of people to lead them into freedom. You know? I sat in a usual youth meeting last night and thought;

"Man... what if God just dropped a Spirit Bomb in this room? Sick were healed. People were "rallied" by the manifest presence of a Holy God. How would we respond?"

The answer is a bit of an unknown still for most of us. As a parent, years ago I choose to raise my kids in revival. I don't even want them to have a conditioned response to religion. Going down that road only leads to having to get free from it all later.

As a youth leader, I know it's going to take some work... but my desire is to create a place where the heavens are opened up... and there... we intentionally condition the response of young people to how to live in the presense of God. Not just trying to use vocal hooks so that people can remember what some Big Eared Dufus said the night before.

1 comment:

Matthew Paul Turner said...

Wow. This is great, man. I love your observations. I've often thought about how much our "culture" plays into how we respond to things. Thanks for putting my thoughts into "blog."

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