The Church and the Purple Pen

Sam Rainer

May 2, 2007

When I was in the corporate world, my boss would sometimes jokingly use a purple pen to review my work. He was poking fun at the fact that some school systems think red might be too offensive a color with which to grade. Like I mentioned in my last post, the purple pen was before my time. My teachers used lots of red ink on my work.

Such is our current culture. We hate to tell others that they are failing in a certain area. We don’t want our children to experience the pain of being below average. Indeed, most good parents want nothing more than their children to excel. This attitude is noble, but when school systems begin to remove the ‘F’ then the ‘D,’ and with at least one school system in Kentucky, the ‘C,’ it only makes me wonder if such an extreme is healthy.

Admittedly, I am not an expert on school health. But a trend is evident within our society – people don’t like to broach the subject of failure. I can certainly understand; failure is my biggest fear.

One of the Wall Street Journal’s latest studies reveals that corporate America is now lessening the taboo on crying at work. Now I am not talking about the sudden and tragic news that people hear at work, such as losing a loved one, which causes them to cry. This study involved those who received negative feedback from their superiors and burst into tears.

What concerns me is that my generation of 20 and 30-somethings are perhaps getting too sensitive about life, particularly failure. The question that I have is how it carries over into the church. Quite frankly, I don’t like telling the unmarried couple who are living together that what they are doing is wrong in the eyes of God. I don’t like dealing with people who are ingrained in sin, having to tell them that they need a reality-check from God. I don’t like hearing warranted criticism about me. But in the end, it is healthy.

What if my father and mother had never told me that 50% on a test is not like batting .500? What if they never let me know that I had failed? I would never have learned to deal with not meeting expectations.

This level of lowered expectations certainly has crept into the corporate world, as evidenced by more people my age crying at work. My former boss, though being humorous with the purple pen, is not too far off after all.

The church is no doubt different from the corporate world. It is a place of healing, a place to cry if need be, and a place to weep over sins. But it is not a place where we can tolerate failure to the red words in our Bibles. As a pastor, I hope and pray my church raises the bar of expectations. I certainly do not want to lower the standards so that others will feel good about themselves. Granted, everyone is at a different stage of spiritual maturity. But what do you think? Should churches be preparing warriors or weaklings? How far is too far with what to expect from church members and potential church members?

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