The body language of religion

The_Puppet_by_xDimaxThis was actually when I realised that I couldn’t fix the local “church” and that my only option was to leave. I was standing up front leading worship. For about a year or maybe more I had grown frustrated with worship because the way we do it is so consumerist. Sure we as christians are very good at slapping spiritual terms on very natural things, like saying “wow this mornings worship was so anointed” meantime, the worship leader just picked my three favourite songs in a row.

My struggle was that I wanted to lead worship in a different way. I wanted the people to contribute more to the leading so that they wouldn’t just be singing my setlist, but rather they were singing about what God had been doing in their lives that last week. This congregation wasn’t unique. In fact I have never seen it done any other way. The sad thing is the more I moved in a new direction the more resistant the people seemed to become (also not new). And then it hit me, not only do people communicate 90% of what they say through body language, I believe that congregations and religion itself has a body language that says something powerful.

If I was lucky by my life style and worship leading and participation in the congregations life I was contributing to 10% of what people hear, 90% was coming from elsewhere and because it is not said using words, it’s almost impossible to argue against it. People are so good at denying the reality we just do what we always do, we slap on an explanation that suits us and proceed as if it’s true.

Decoding the body language of religious institutions is pretty tricky, and the only audience that I think will listen are those who have left because they know something is wrong, but they are not sure what, and so later on they second guess themselves. I am also not claiming to have “deciphered the code” but this is what I have found. This also ties a little into what I shared last week.

I believe that the body language of religion can be summarised by this word control. Religion does this in so many ways and so subtly. It controls through fear, manipulation, through peer pressure and management systems/structures/principles and emotional pressure/abuse.

Religion has one vision, one agenda and demands conformity to it. Have you ever brought a vision to the leadership that you believed was from God but didn’t line up their vision, I bet they didn’t even pray and ask God if he was talking to them. Jesus is creative, he loves and creates variety, he lives in the spontaneous moments because as these things relate to him and are gathered together in him, we find our unity in Him, not in uniformity.

Religion is supposed to have all the answers because it supposedly has the truth. Have you asked for prayer for healing, for financial breakthrough, for mental health issues that are never solved? Eventually the leadership distances themselves from you because that isn’t the “abundant/victorious christian life” and because it reflects poorly on them and they are supposed to have the answer. However the truth isn’t in a bible verse or in a timeless principle, it’s a person and his name is Jesus, he loves us into a relationship with himself so that we can live beyond our understanding even when we don’t have all the answers, and still be able to know that we are loved.

Religion doesn’t set us free from sin, it just manages and pushes it down either using shame, because at all costs we have to look like we are victorious, that we are growing and that we are supposed to be examples to other believers. Jesus sets us free from sin by his love for us expressed on the cross. His grace allows us to process the issues that feed our sinful behaviour and in time he loves us into healed transparent living.

Religion empowers people to a certain point, up to the point that they serve and carry out the agenda of the religious organisation which is usually about growing the infrastructure, beyond that point a ceiling is put on them and if they resist they are being “unsubmissive”. Religion talks about excellence, but it uses this talk to either qualify or disqualify people based on what it can get out of them. After this so many people are cruelly discarded. Jesus qualifies everyone by his love for them, sure not everyone accepts that love, but Jesus seeks out the marginalised, the forgotten, the unclean, the hated, the demonically possessed and calls them friends.

Religion is like squeezing a wet bar of soap on these issues, when I go to one of the services I find the contradictions between what they are saying, 10%, and what they are really saying, 90%, something I can live without. I believe that we can have a healthy, growing relationship with Jesus that is completely free of religion, because I believe that Jesus came to end religion and to invite us into a relationship with him.

(Please know that when I talk about religion I am talking about this body language and the structures etc, I am not talking about people, even the people who lead these religious institutions because I was one of them I know that religion makes good, kind, sincere people, do bad things, lead fearfully, control and manage others, and yet when they are removed from religion they become what Jesus always made them to be, like him)


10 thoughts on “The body language of religion

  1. As a worship leader did you ever consider the significance of the words that people were singing? It was 70 years ago that I was thrown out of singing lessons for being the person singing on the one note. Four years later I was given a speaking part in a ‘Gang Show’ and simply mimed the choruses. For years in church I sang ‘under my breath’. But by the time I began to question what we were being taught, I started concentrating on the words on the overhead. It’s amazing how much misguided theology has been emphasised in the words of favourite hymns! No wonder people are indocrinated by denominational theology!

    Many years ago I had the opportunity to give three or four sermons over a period of perhaps 18 months. I was keen to get some ‘audience participation’ and would ask questions that I hoped people would talk to me afterwards. Nothing ever happened so I asked the pastor if I could give a sermon and ask for responses within the service. Needless to say the answer was ‘No’ – and that was just another part of the process of walking away.

    I really appreciate your thoughts Justin and the way in which you have tried to go back to the drawing board. You are right to say that religion doesn’t set us free from sin, but I would take this one step further. Jesus is described as the redeemer BEFORE creation. This suggests to me that Father God knew that humanity would ‘miss the mark of what they were created to be’ (one definition of sin) without Jesus and/or the Holy Spirit living within us – and I see this as an ongoing process that will not be completed in this life.

    Food for thought?


    1. Hey Peter, you are so right, much of the worship songs and even hymns have dodgy theology and reinforce the mixed messages.

      I also agree that we won’t experience the perfect here on earth. But as I understand you aren’t saying we need to get it right but rather its about engaging God in relationship and his indwelling which I totally agree with. Thanks for you comments


  2. Awesome words Justin, thank you
    . It is amazing how things are different seeing it from the outside. And I love that you make distinction between the people and the system. It is important although I think some positions are filled by people and do need a mention that what they are doing is directly feeding the beast. And who better than one who has been ons of them ;-). Thanks Justin


    1. I am so encouraged that this was a blessing for you. Yeah I think it may be a bit like the Pharisees, Jesus gave them a hard time for feeding the beast but in the end he died for them too. Personally I want to treat each person with grace because at the end of the day we will be held responsible for our lives.


  3. Even though my last church was fading and a committee was formed, eventually it became clear that change was not really wanted at all if it meant really looking at what was going on.
    And considering the pastor’s involvement got us called “mean” by the pastor’s wife at a public meeting.
    At least 6 of us never went back. We got the message loud and clear.


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