Just try asking for a child to put away their toys, or a teenager to get off their tablet, or an adult to stop smoking in the breezeway and you realise people don’t like to be told what to do.
Politicians get stubborn when pushed and prodded about economic policy.
Parents get irate when someone offers them some ‘much needed advice’ on parenting.
Drivers get obstinate when a well meaning driver points out the road rules.
Autocrats get violent when human rights activists challenge their actions.
‘Don’t tell me what to do!’
Even in foreign affairs we don’t like it
Take for instance, the lead up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. There was much hope as human rights campaigners were at their loudest and political momentum seemed to be shifting towards a more democratic and peaceful China.
Freedom of the press!
Stop arresting people who are innocent!
Tell us the truth about Tiananmen Square!
The prominence China received in hosting the 2008 Olympics, and the controversy surrounding its human right record that became global news, did very little to alleviate oppression amid the Tibetan people.
One may suggest that China has never responded particularly well to people telling them what to do and many voices in the west went seemingly unheard. Some years later under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, human rights violations are still rampant, and global players like the United States are trying to balance the desire to speak out against Chinese abuse of power, with its own country’s economic strategy.
Let me break it down for you: people don’t like to be told what to do.
Many human rights campaigners that have sought justice have been silenced over the years in China, but others have used back-channels and ‘quiet diplomacy’ to seek change to the brutal human rights regime.
Any attempt to rectify a dreadful human rights record in China, will need to come from within, and not a western power dictating how the Chinese should conduct its domestic affairs.
The church as a dictator
We don’t need to travel to China to see pigheadedness. We need only look at our own lives and we see stubbornness. An unwillingness to admit when we are wrong, and a resolute commitment to not being told what to do.
Ironic then, that the church can spend so much time in a rules-based, tell people what they can/cannot do kind of mentality.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t hold each other accountable, but rather that we cannot simply exist as communities of faith standing on our podiums telling the world how not to live. In fact, the church has very little credibility in the eyes of the world to do that anyway.
I think, the role of a follower of Jesus is not necessarily to tell people what to do, but rather show who Jesus is. We should spend more time therefore revealing to the world the nature of God, instead of highlighting what we think are all the things wrong with it.
What if we spent less time forcing people to change, and more time helping them understand why they need to? What if we attempted to live out the character of Christ far above and beyond our desire to get people to do what we think they need to do?
Sometimes I wonder whether people deep down know what they should do anyway. The church then is not helping when it pounds people’s heads, to tell them what to do. When Matthew chapter 10, verse 16 says, ‘Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves,’ I’m not sure that was licence to become the moral police.
I know there’s a fine-line here, between quietly suggesting to someone on how they could change, and squatting a fly on their head with a hammer. I just think we know by experience, that people do not change (often) when you simply tell them what to do.
You can keep trying, but we all know that experience tells us, people get stubborn when you them what to do.
Don’t give people rules.
Give them Jesus.
Pete Brookshaw is the Senior Minister of The Salvation Army Craigieburn. He has a Bachelor of both Business and Theology and is passionate about the church being dynamic and effective in the world and creating communities of faith that are outward-focused, innovative, passionate about the lost and committed to societal change. He has been blogging since 2006 at www.petebrookshaw.com about leadership and faith and you can find him on:
Peter Brookshaw’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/peter-brookshaw.html