- made in imitation; artificial."a string of faux pearls"
- not genuine; fake or false."their faux concern for the well-being of the voters didn't fool many"
Congregations are supposed to be friendly, warm, kind, and welcoming spaces. In fact, if your church is indicative, it probably has a "first impressions" ministry to ensure that new folks are welcomed and feel at home. This is as it should be because it can be daunting to walk into a new space and feel genuinely at home.
The problem is that, in many cases, church relationships are not genuine. They are a lie. They are faux relationships that exist as long as you fit into the faux community that pretends it is a genuine community. It is a Potemkin village where it looks beautiful, but the beauty is a facade.
Here are indicators that what you think is real is false and faux. If you leave a church for whatever reason, do people quit talking to you? Are the relationships over? It happens all the time because in leaving, you have violated the rules that we are together - a community. The truth is that in those situations, you were not a real community but a pseudo-community that exists as long as you are on the inside. Once on the outside, those relationships simply disappear.
If you ask hard questions and irritate leaders or staff and they stop talking to you, you know that the relationships you thought you had were not genuine. They were false and faux. You have been effectively shunned and sent outside the camp, and you realize that what you thought was community was only community when you conformed to the group.
The indicator of faux relationships is how quickly one can go from being on the inside to finding oneself on the outside. It is disorienting and crazymaking. How did you go from being a valued community member to a pariah in such a short time? And you ask yourself, was what I had real? And you conclude that it was not. All of a sudden, people don't talk to you, don't care for you, and you know that you have been put outside the "loving circle" of that congregation. In fact, you are no longer wanted!
Why does this matter? It matters because faux relationships are relationships of convenience - but they are not real relationships. They do not express the love that Jesus has for us and that we are to have for one another, which emanate deeply from the heart and persist in good and bad times, in times of agreement and disagreement. Real love is not easily destroyed or walked away from. Yet we do this in the church all the time. You are either on the inside or the outside!
I know people who have abandoned church altogether after experiencing faux relationships. The realization that they were loved and appreciated only when they toed the party line was a bitter pill to swallow. They realize that they were not loved at all.
There is a pragmatism that drives faux relationships. We won't find and retain new people if we are not a welcoming church. But we will not invest in those relationships because that takes time and effort. We want the community without the effort to actually build community. "Life Together," as Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in his classic volume, is way too deep a commitment. So in many churches, relationships look real but are not.
In an irony, Bonhoeffer says this about Christian community. "The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community." Here lies the reason there are so many faux relationships in the church. We have a dream of a community. We have slogans for that dream. We idolize that dream, but we don't actually choose to love those around us, and our dream destroys the very concept of a real community.
I have experienced this phenomenon at times in my own church experience. It is painful and sad, and disorienting. The good news is that it convinced me that what I had was fake and that what I wanted was genuine. But it was deeply painful nonetheless. I invested that period of my life in a dream of community rather than in a real community. I, for one, want the real thing.
Don't settle for faux relationships in the church. They are fake, won't stand the test of time, and don't reflect the real love Jesus calls us to have for one another.
If you are a church leader, I don't care what your dream for community is. Remember the words of Bonhoeffer, "The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community."