A few months back my church invited an outside ministry, Life Action Ministries, to conduct a series of “renewal” services in our church. I knew I could use some refreshing…it can become very easy in the day to day of life to loose the “zing” in our Christian walk. So I looked forward to the services.
At the same time though, I had a bit of trepidation. That came from my previous studies in “social psychology” in college. I learned in this class that when people “pay” a high price for something—whether that “payment” be in the form of money, performing difficult or demeaning activities, sacrifices of things they value, or giving of time—they will tend to believe that the “something” has high value. The latter “payments” actually will often produce a higher assigned “value” in the individual than does monetary payment. It’s that concept that makes military boot camp or fraternity/sorority hazing so successful in turning out individuals who have fierce and life-long loyalty to the organizations.
My concern with this series of “renewal” services was the time commitment that was anticipated—and this concern applies to really any activity that involves a heavy time commitment over a short time span. The congregation was slowly prepared to expect that we would have 3 Sunday morning services and 2 Sunday evening services conducted by this ministry, as well as attending weeknight services Monday-Friday during the two weeks nested by those Sundays. The evening meetings would be from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Then during the first Sunday service of the series we were told that the upcoming Saturday there would be day long services—9 a.m. to 4 p.m. if I remember correctly. (We may have been told of the Saturday just shortly before the start of the event. I know that I did not know far enough in advance to be able to clear my calendar of the childbirth class I was teaching, so we did not attend.)
So lets look at the dynamics of this in the typical family. The first Sunday sermon was fairly basic. There was nothing I hadn’t heard elsewhere before, nothing that really was digging deep, nothing particularly challenging. It was a “soft sell” in my opinion. There was a Sunday evening service that we were unable to attend, but one can assume that attendees would for the most part have returned home afterward, tired from the day, and "unwound" a bit, then gone to bed--not really thinking deeply about what was taught. Then the typical family attending the Monday night session would involve Dad rushing home from work (in some families Dad and Mom rushing home from work…hope someone remembered to stop at daycare to pick up the kids!), a very rushed family meal (or perhaps the kids were fed in advance, but then Dad had to inhale dinner), then pack everyone up to be at church at 6:30. When getting home from the session at 9 o’clock-ish the kids need to get put to bed. Typically by that point Mom and Dad aren’t really wanting to do a lot of work. They want a few moments to unwind before going to bed themselves. They certainly don’t get a chance to follow the example of the Bereans and go seek the scriptures to make sure that what they just heard matches the scripture (this will come up later!).
This would get repeated each night, then on Saturday as well. By Sunday morning people who attended all of the weeknight sessions and Saturday have sacrificed close to 20 hours of their time beyond what they would normally have given (commuting and in the sessions), 5 leisurely family dinners, sleeping in on Saturday, and they are probably watching normal household chores get back-logged. Their heavy “payment” would work to create in them a belief that what they were learning was of great value, so they would esteem it as such. Their lack of free time would hinder their ability to question what they were learning, so they had become accustomed to just accepting what was dished out. While they might discuss the sermon while driving home and over lunch (in glowing terms!), Sunday afternoon would be a leisurely nap to be refreshed for the evening service…not an examination of scripture.
I anticipated these problems going into it—but tried to shrug them off as “those liberal psychologists undermining my faith.” But the thing is, though there is some psychological stuff that is counter to our faith, there is some learning to be gained from the psychological community just about the general nature of people and how we respond in different scenarios. I believe this falls under the area of “general revelation” from God just as much as what I learned about biology and chemistry in college also falls under “general revelation” in understanding the beauty and intricacy of God’s physical creation. I often state with complete conviction of its truth that two of the six classes I took toward my psychology minor in college—Social Psychology and Childhood Development—gave me more practical information that I have applied to my life since college, both socially and professionally, than all of the biology and chemistry classes that I took to supposedly “prepare” me for a professional career. So yes, given my education in basic psychological principles, I was a bit leary that this event at my church was going to be "Indoctrination 101."