No Transformation Necessary
Why do churches have such low expectations?

Dallas Willard has said, "We fail to be disciples only because we do not decide to be. We do not intend to be disciples." But which is the greater problem, the person who does not intend to be a disciple or the church that never expects him to be one? Dave Johnson, senior pastor of Church of the Open Door in Maple Grove, Minnesota, shares about a man from his childhood church. Ray was an elder who showed no evidence of transformation, and the church never seemed disturbed by that fact. Johnson asks the obvious question: What's up with that?

His name was Ray. He sat in the 3rd row on the aisle seat of the church I grew up in. Every Sunday, there he was - watching, critiquing, making sure my father said it right. Ray's Bible was a thing to behold. Words underlined and circled with arrows pointing to other words - notes in the margin of almost every page. I think he knew the Bible better than God.

Ray was a church guy. When I was 10, he scared me. When I was 20, after my father had begun to share with me the inside story of life in ministry, I came to realize that Ray scared him too. My dad was the pastor of our church. Ray was one of his elders - at least for a time - and he wasn't a happy guy. The Spirit's fruit, like love and joy, rarely showed up in him in any discernable way, and he didn't much like it if showed up in yours.

Sometimes I wonder if I've been too hard on Ray. He's somehow become the composite of every rigid, narrow minded person I've ever met in church. No matter - Ray's dead now - long gone - in heaven, no doubt. At least that's what we all thought, because Ray prayed the prayer. He believed all the right things about Jesus (His death, resurrection, 2nd coming, all that), and would fight you if you didn't. Like I said, Ray was a church guy. He just wasn't a good guy.

So here's my question: "What's up with that?" In all his years in church and in "the Word", Ray never became a different kind of person. He never changed. He never became more loving, gentle, peaceful, or patient. Indeed, he only seemed to become more angry and rigid as time went on. He became harder to be around. What's more, no one seemed to be bothered by that, as though something were out of the ordinary. No one wondered if maybe Ray had somehow missed the point.

In other words, not only did Ray never change but no one seemed to expect him to. Ray was just being Ray. He prayed the prayer, he believed the right stuff about Jesus, he was irritated with people who didn't, and he went to heaven when he died. So again the question: "What's up with that?"

Dave Johnson is the senior pastor of Church of the Open Door in Maple Grove, Minnesota. An interview with Johnson is featured in the upcoming spring issue of Leadership. He will also be a featured presenter at the 2007 Spiritual Formation Forum in Milwaukee June 6-8. You can learn more and register at the Spiritual Formation Forum website.

Displaying 1–10 of 33 comments


January 10, 2008  9:32pm

I am so interested in this subject right now.I've been doing an in depth study on it for a while and what i'm finding is very interesting, but hardly ever talked about. I believe that there is a large group of people out there who think they're saved but are in for a rude awakening when they stand before God.The bible teaches that choosing God is not a one time, verbal agreement. It's a continual decision. The bible says we must continue in the faith. We may say with our mouths that we know Jesus or He is our Lord but if our actions say different were decieving ourselves. He knows the true thoughts and intents of our hearts. One of our problems is that we take God and His word too lightly.It's a package deal He can't be savior but not lord. It's all or nothing. Salvation to me is not as easy as some explain it to be.It's a free gift that cost you your life.

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May 01, 2007  4:53pm

I have read through all the posts, and can't believe that while so many of us are either ready to "pass righteous judgment" or give Ray a "free pass with cheap grace/theology" no one asks about the sin of the Church. Our sin in these situations. Some have alluded to it. You know what I am talking about, the "dirty little secrets" everyone knows about: the teenagers who are way too affectionate with each other and "going to get themselves in trouble;" the unfaithful husbands and wives who are "staying together for the kids;" and yes, even the Rays who are "just that way" as they wound and injure others in a place we call "the sanctuary." So I ask, what is our sin? Where are we? Not to confront, or judge, or even drag these sinners out the door by their ear...we're not even asked to do that much. The truth is we don't even care enough to have a conversation with the person that we are all talking about, as we all stand around at a safe distance and watch others struggle, wound, and fail. It begs the question who has truly failed here? Who is failing now?

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Dorothy Holland

April 15, 2007  7:59am

Grace is amazing. This is why we call it a faith journey. I made my confession of faith at 11. I was saved at that point in my life. But, I'm not even sure I recognized there was something else I needed to do (read: turn my will over). Sure, I was saved, but I chose to continue to make the wrong choices. Not read the word, not to seek to be transformed. Many years later, I rededicated my life to Christ. THAT is when the real changes started to occur. All those years in between though, I professed my salvation, but my actions didn't reflect it. I lived hard and made tons of really bad choices. But, that is a very common theme, I believe, in the 1950-60's paradigm of civic minded church, salvation = justification + transformation. I feel it is crucial to work towards developing the person's relationship with Christ. Spiritual disciplines, pray, study, and so on. Develop the PASSION for Christ. That is what transforms people lives. But, the fact remains that God gives us free will and we have a choice to be transformed or not. I believe justification comes through salvation. It is a line we cross, a line of demarcation. Just like we can't go back into our mother's womb. But, sanctification doesn't come with salvation. That is a second choice that we make. I am glad that God was patient with me. For my life has since been transformed. Not perfect, that's for sure. But transforming each day. My heart is always seeking to find out why a person hasn't started on the road of transformation. God's mercy has allowed me to use my bad choices to help others in their journey. For example when I see some one with a lack of self respect and self-worth that leads to a promiscuous lifestyle, I understand that they don't grasp "Who's" they are and that God loves us perfectly. So for me, it is critical not to stop the faith journey at the line of salvation, but encourage people forward on their journey towards transformation. And to always remember, we don't change people lives, God does. Doro love God, love others, it's simple

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April 14, 2007  10:38pm

"I'm longing to hear stories of "stuck-in-the-mud" Christians making new and bold strides in their pursuit of Christ-likeness. " I highly recommend "Emotionally Healthy Spirituality" by Peter Scazzero for one such story.

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April 13, 2007  7:47am

I think that one of the reasons there are so many "Rays" out there in our churches that, as Willard points out in Renovation of the Heart, for a very long time, there has been no expectation that members will actually be disciples. Sort of goes hand-in-hand with the biblically-offbase notion that you can be a Christian and then choose whether or not you would like to be a disciple. Someone on this blog made a great quote how churches today cater to people who want the benefits of being Christian without paying the cost. I wrote about this recently: "Sadly though, human beings often seem to fall far short of our potential. We fail to be Christ for the world; we may even drive people away from Christ by our actions or lack of action. Rather than standing out from the world, we try to blend into the world around us. We're afraid to stand out from the crowd and be identified as followers of Christ. We want the benefits of being a Christian without having to pay any of the cost. What we forget is that in the end, it costs us so much more when we refuse to claim our identity and pay the full cost of being a follower of Christ." For more see:

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April 10, 2007  9:32pm

my church had several "Rays" - they made life miserable for the pastors, the congregation and mostly themselves when they couldn't get their way - the power struggle was tremendous. They never "grew" in their faith; they only "grew" in their own little world of control....they left to join other congregations where hopefully they are now "happy" - our congregation is so much better now - we have a vision team and are planning ways in which our church can really grow and search out in our community those people who truly need the love of Jesus -

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Jason Powell

April 09, 2007  7:22pm

Pastor Greg Boyd (Myth of A Christian Nation) puts it this way in his blog ( the commitment one makes offer ones life to Christ IS NOT the actual life one lives to honor that commitment. (go to his blog, he's more eloquent than I) It's kind've Weslyian. Mental assent to propositions doesn't really make one "more like Jesus". Are you you need to let God go to work on you...deffinately. Should pastors and spiritual leaders encourage, exhort, and discipline you during that process (HECK YES!!!!!!) If they don't they're impotent leaders. Someone earlier said something like we have no model for what it means to be a disciple....ARE YOU FREAKIN' KIDDING ME?????!!!!! HIS NAME IS JESUS and there are four great books about what living/acting like Him are like....get real. Salvation is a gift, and thank God for that. Holiness....that takes work! I think the problem is this (and Willard would agree). Being externally pious is no guarantee of a life lives close to, and transformed by God. The life lived close to God...will be transformed into the image of God. Hence the idea of being made like Christ. It seems to me we all like to ignore the book of James. It makes our simple faith to difficult. Jason

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April 06, 2007  2:08pm

No Andy, I'm sorry. The problem with us is not that we don't treat "Rays" with grace. It is that we give them a pass, we allow them into positions of power and then we allow them to stay in those positions, we don't expect better of them, we let them abuse the sheep, we allow them to be stumbling blocks for others, and we're afraid of them.

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April 02, 2007  8:23am

The problem with "Rays" is they don't understand grace. The problem is us is we don't treat "Rays" with grace.

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Michael Hanegan

March 31, 2007  9:27pm

Can anyone be a disciple and not become like Jesus? What a great question for the church today! May God help us to be what He calls us to be.

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