The Frozen Chosen
Have you ever heard the term ‘frozen chosen’? I can’t recall ever hearing that term until I became a Presbyterian, but it’s kind of catchy don’t you think? There are actually several different definitions of the term ‘frozen chosen’. The most common use of the term is in reference to those believers who maintain more formal and orderly worship services, which definitely describes those of us in the Presbyterian church. It can also refer to Christians who show very little excitement in their faith, charismatics who don’t fully embrace the more dramatic spiritual gifts, and it can also, quite literally, refer to Christians in colder parts of the world.
Personally, I’ve always thought of it as referring to those who believe in God and the salvation of Jesus Christ, but aren’t really willing to step outside of their comfort zones and serve Him fully through practical ministries for His children here on earth. They are essentially frozen to their Sunday morning pews. As offensive as it may be to some people, it really comes down to the fact that either their faith is not as stout as they think it is, or they simply aren’t making God and His work a priority in their lives. They nod in agreement to the pastor’s sermons, they think it’s delightful that the church is starting a new ministry, they think the church needs more outreach, they may even pride themselves on biblical or denominational knowledge and be faithful givers, but when it comes to where the rubber meets the road they are nowhere to be found.
There are certain ministries in every church that have been around for years, and generally speaking, the ‘frozen chosen’ tend to be okay with participating in those programs. Traditional programs like vacation bible school have been around for so long that they have come to be expected by congregations and usually it’s not a problem finding volunteers or money to keep those programs going. Every church also has their own individual ministries that have been going on for years, and volunteering or contributing to those projects has become almost reflexive for the congregation. These are programs that are so ingrained in the Church that they have become familiar and comfortable ways for members of the Church to serve in some not too sacrificial capacity. You taught VBS last year, why not teach this year? You packed Thanksgiving food baskets last year, why not do it this year?
Honestly though, what is the true efficacy of these ministries in terms of carrying the love of God to the masses? What is the true efficacy of these ministries in terms of pushing His disciples out of their comfort zones so that they have to put their faith in Him and not rely on their own abilities?
When I first became a believer, I attended a small Southern Baptist church where I met a man by the name of Danny Simmons. Danny not only led the worship service every Sunday morning, but he was also the youth minister. Danny always knew how to relate to the youth and make learning about religious stuff fun and interesting. One thing that Danny taught us that has always stayed with me over the years was that if you wanted to genuinely put your faith in God and serve Him, then you had to step outside of your comfort zone and take risks. The idea was that if you are doing things that you know how to do, things that you are comfortable doing, things within your own abilities, then you are not putting your faith in God but in your own ability.
Both of my children can ride a bike now, but that wasn’t always the case. Like every other kid, they started out with training wheels. They would ride their bikes up and down the drive way and all around the yard as though they were professional motocross champions. When you removed the training wheels, however, that all changed dramatically. They’d go from being fearless motocross champions to begging and pleading for mom and dad to not let go. They would be consumed by fear. We would try to tell them that nothing has really changed, that they can do this just like they did it with the training wheels before, they just needed to be confident and have faith that the bike wouldn’t fall over. They also had to believe that mom and dad wouldn’t let them get hurt.
Every parent has been there before with their child. Whether it’s learning to ride a bike with no training wheels, swimming with no floaties, or sleeping with no night light, the only way our children learn is to step outside of their comfort zone, under the caring supervision of their parents of course, and take a chance. The same is true when it comes to growing as a disciple. You need to step outside of your own comfort zone to truly see God at work in your life. Have you removed your training wheels yet? Do you really believe everything He has told you? Do you really trust that He will keep you safe?
Sheep Among Wolves
In chapter 10 of Matthew’s gospel we read the story of when Jesus sent his twelve apostles out into the world on their own. You might could say that Jesus was pushing them down a hill with no training wheels, but the truth was far worse than that. Before he sent them out, Jesus told these guys that they couldn’t take anything with them, not even a change of clothes. Then, to make matters worse, not only did he expect them to perform miraculous deeds, but he also implied, not very subtly, that they would suffer in their journey. “You will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues.”
Can you imagine how scary that moment must have been for those men? Most of those guys were not men of high status or education. They were simple men, not religious leaders or great orators, and they were completely out of their element. They didn’t take a step outside of their comfort zones, they took a leap. Compare that to the gargantuan task of trying to get today’s Christians to introduce themselves to a stranger, to share a testimony, to serve on a committee, to sit in the front pew, or to venture out from their own clique to get to know others not quite like themselves.
If I’m being too patronizing then I’m sorry, but it frustrates me to hear so many people complain so passionately about what’s wrong with their church when I’ve witnessed these same people’s unwillingness to step outside of their comfort zone for even the most miniscule matters. I look at the sending of the twelve as an example for us all. All the twelve needed was genuine faith in what Jesus had taught them. He gave them a task and promised that God valued them and would take care of them. The same is true for us today.
Through a simple Google search you can find several different quizzes online designed to reveal what your specific spiritual gifts are. These quizzes are not unlike the career quizzes that many young people, and older people looking for a change, take before planning what career path they would like to follow. Overall these spiritual gift quizzes can be a valuable tool. They can help identify what areas of ministry you may be best at, maybe you’d be a good teacher, maybe a good servant, and sometimes, they could open the eyes of someone to the idea of a career in full-time ministry as a pastor. Of course, there is a down side to these quizzes.
We are all called to be ministers of the Gospel of Grace. Just because teaching is not your spiritual gift doesn’t mean you can’t teach others about the grace of God. Just because the quiz says your gift is leadership doesn’t mean that you’re excused from ever rolling up your sleeves and working in the kitchen. And just because the quiz says that you’re a good servant doesn’t mean that you should never be a leader. These quizzes only help to identify your strengths in terms of spiritual gifts, but some people misunderstand that and think that because they are good at something, that alone is how they should serve the church.
We see it all the time. Every church has people that love being in the kitchen and serving others. Every church has those people gifted with voices like angels. Every church has people who could teach the most complicated theological ideas in a way that even children could understand. Why don’t we ever mix it up? Put the teachers in the kitchen, the choir members in the classrooms, and the cooks in the choir loft!
As valuable as these spiritual gift quizzes can be, I wonder if they don’t also serve to help people find what place in the church would make them most comfortable. Of course, being comfortable is fine for a while, but again, at some point you must remove the training wheels.
The Great Thaw
When God’s people have found their spiritual gift and frozen themselves into a comfortable position among the faithful, how do we thaw them out? The short answer would be, I don’t really know. Sorry if I have been leading you on this entire time. I am sure the answer will vary for every congregation and maybe even for every individual member of the frozen chosen. While I don’t know exactly how to thaw anyone out I do know that it is imperative that we do it somehow, and soon.
A huge topic in the Church today is why are so many people, especially young people, leaving the faith, and how do we get them back. I think the answer to that question lies in the dilemma of the frozen chosen. Young people who grew up in the church listened in their Sunday school classes and youth groups. They listened to the messages they heard from the pulpit and at the church camps and retreats. They listened to all of it and even took it to heart.
Then, as they got older and started to become more aware of how things really work in the church, they saw those same people who taught grace and humility shouting at each other over insignificant matters. They saw the church becoming increasingly divided over issues that they were taught had no significance when compared to the love and power of God. They heard the hate fueled gossip that was being spread throughout the congregation, sometimes by their own parents. They saw the church sitting on their hands while conditions in the surrounding community deteriorated. Then, those youth began to realize that it’s all just a big dog and pony show. None of it bears any real significance in our lives. Church is just like everywhere else, but with a great deal more judgement.
What’s the connection between all of this and the frozen chosen? It’s the cancer of the frozen chosen that has incapacitated the church and thus smothered any growth from within, spiritual or otherwise. And if the body isn’t healthy on the inside then it cannot function properly to carry out the will of our Creator. It’s the frozen chosen who are approaching the faith half-heartedly and looking at matters of ministry through the wholly inadequate eyes of mankind rather than looking at the world with eyes that have been completely transformed by the renewing of their minds.
We must encourage people to step outside of their comfort zones, to embrace the unknown, and to let go of the need to have everything known and planned-out in advance. This is likely the only way to grow in your faith. By letting go of all your own skills and abilities you have to put your faith in God alone. Some folks, like baby birds, may need to be pushed from the nest in order to take that first step. Maybe the answer is, as I hinted at above, to push the teachers into the kitchen, the choir members into the classrooms, and the cooks into the choir loft, and in so doing let go of all control over how things are supposed to be done and just fully embrace the experience. We’d make a wonderful and inspiring mess of things, but we’d all grow a lot closer to each other and our God.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10