This is Part 11 in a 12 Part series. The premise is this: "Two men in their in their late 20’s walk into a coffee shop around 7:00 a.m. In college they had been good friends, but over the past few years had gotten out of touch. Having lived in the same dormitory for three of their four years at City Christian College, they still had many fond—and a few not-so-fond memories—of their time together in college. Just by accident (or so Michael thought) they had run into each other in a hardware store and had set up a time to talk over breakfast. This is their eleventh breakfast together.

If you want to read this series of conversations from the beginning (you don't have to start at the beginning), please see Part 1.

Jim: This orange juice is great. I think it was freshly squeezed. Pure, smooth, and a bit tangy—just the way I like it. I’m growing fond of this restaurant.

Michael: Because of the orange juice?

Jim: (thoughtfully) No … but I love the orange juice.

Michael: You should have seen my breakfast this last Sunday at the café in Alpine Lodge. Eggs Benedict … apple crepes … mocha coffee …

Jim: What were you doing up there?

Michael: Skiing … or trying to.

Jim: I didn’t know you knew how to ski.

Michael: I don’t. I mean, I didn’t. I’m just learning.

Jim: That’s great … learning to ski at your age.

Michael: As though I’m so old …

Jim: How did skiing get into your mind?

Michael: For one thing, it was a good way to be away on Sunday, though I’ve wanted to try skiing for a long time.

Jim: What’s wrong, disenchanted already with Apostolic Spiritual Encounters Church?

Michael: A little …

Jim: Too exciting, huh? I heard they had a worship-dance group this past Sunday. Ready for some liturgy again?

Michael: It has nothing to do with that.

Jim: I don’t like the ties the pastor wears either …

Michael: Ties? Oh, get off it, Jim. I wouldn’t avoid a church over polka-dot ties.

Jim: OK, then, spill it. What’s the problem?

Michael: I think I’ll never find a church I can take my family to.

Jim: WHY NOT?!

Michael: There’s just too much hypocrisy!

Jim: I have to agree with you there.

Michael: (not listening to Jim’s answer) … I know it’s hard for you to hear this, since you’re in the ministry and everything … (all of a sudden catching on) … did you say you agree?!

Jim: Of course I do.

Michael: Well, then, at least we agree on one point.

Jim: I hope we agree on more than just this point.

Michael: If you took all the hypocrites in the church and laid them end to end …

Jim: You should leave them there.

Michael: Not a bad idea. But how long do you think the line would be?

Jim: Long enough to kill a lot of nice, green grass. What happened to make you change your mind so soon?

Michael: I’m not changing my mind. I’ve always been frustrated about the hypocrisy I see in the church. But most of my interactions at this church had been pretty good. But then …

Jim: Then?

Michael: I agreed to do some graphics work on the side for one of the deacons, but now that I’ve put a lot of time into it, he’s told me he doesn’t want it done after all.

Jim: Is that everything?

Michael: No. Betsy is sick-to-death of Jeff’s wife. She always dresses like the models in the Macys catalog, yet she constantly moans about how bad her financial situation is.

Jim: Is that all?

Michael: Actually not, but I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. We heard that the last elders’ meeting turned into a big fight after one of the elders suggested building a basketball court in the empty lot so the teenagers could use it for youth ministries.

Jim: It sounds like a good idea to me.

Michael: I don’t agree with you, but that’s not what bothered me. My problem was that they couldn’t sit down and work out their differences peacefully.

Jim: That is a problem.

Michael: And I’m starting to get frustrated with the sermons. I mean … the pastor’s a good man …

Jim: He is. I know him well….

Michael: But is it really possible to live out the kind of holy life he keeps exhorting us to live? I wonder if he’s really living out what he’s telling us to do.

Jim: Well … without addressing any of the specifics for the moment, perhaps we should talk about the problem of hypocrisy in the church.

Michael: It looks like we’ve already started.

Jim: What frustrates you is when people say one thing and do another, right?

Michael: Or they keep hinting to others about what wonderful Christians they are. But when I look closely, they don’t look so great to me.

Jim: Everyone?

Michael: I’m not ready to say everyone. But the percentage is high enough that I’m starting to wonder if there’s not a lot more hypocrisy than I ever imagined. Maybe the entire thing is a farce. That’s what I begin to think when I see so many living short of what they claim to believe. If ten separate people applied to work for me in my layout department, and the quality of their work all appeared to be below industry standards, and they all had graduated from the same school, shouldn’t I question the institution from which they graduated?

Jim: In the case of layout, it’s a good illustration, but it won’t work for the church.

Michael: Why not?

Jim: Because the proof of the pudding in not in the church, it’s in Christ himself. You’re looking the wrong direction.

Michael: But shouldn’t the people who wear Christ’s name reflect the attitudes of their leader?

Jim: They should. It doesn’t mean that they always do. I heard about a guy who read that carrots were good for his eyes. He stuck one in his eye and it didn’t help a bit!

Michael: (dryly) Very funny.

Jim: Just because someone sticks a carrot in his eye and says it doesn’t help doesn’t prove that carrots aren’t good for your eyes if you eat them. Just because people wear the name Christian, and claim to be disciples of Christ doesn’t mean anything if they don’t live according to the Word of Christ. In other words, just because there are hypocrites in the church—and there are—doesn’t mean that Jesus isn’t true, the Bible isn’t true, and that it’s not possible to live the compelling sort of life described in the Bible.

Michael: But what are we supposed to do about the problem of hypocrisy? There’s so much of it.

Jim: Don’t be a hypocrite yourself.

Michael: That sounds like a good start.

Jim: I think it’s a good start, middle, and finish.

Michael: My fear of appearing a hypocrite is one of the main reasons why I’ve been reticent to get too involved in any church. Soon after someone in the church learns that I’m a graduate of a Christian college, they begin to recruit me to teach something. I don’t want to be a hypocrite, so I back off.

Jim: I can respect that.

Michael: But, if I don’t begin teaching somewhere, I’m perceived to be shirking my responsibilities to the church. They begin to think that there’s something wrong with me spiritually. Then they start heaping guilt on me.

Jim: But isn’t there actually something wrong with you spiritually? Excuse my bluntness, but if you’re refusing to become a teacher because you fear appearing a hypocrite, you’re making a statement that there is something wrong spiritually.

Michael: Of course … I agree with you. We’ve already talked about my frustration and disillusionment. But why pile hypocrisy on top of cynicism? I already have enough of the second; I certainly don’t need any more of the first.

Jim: I truly respect your concern not to fall into hypocrisy. I wish more people in our churches were so concerned. It’s interesting how Jesus spoke gently and openly to many different categories of people, but addressed the hypocrites so severely. I think this is evidence that he considered hypocrisy to be among the worst of all sins.

Michael: And you’re saying that the only thing we can do about the problem of hypocrisy in the church is to not be hypocrites ourselves.

Jim: That would be the first big step. The second step would be to pursue with all our hearts an unhypocritical life characterized by a vibrant, practical holiness.

Michael: But, isn’t this just the thing I’m afraid of? If I really dive into a full pursuit of the kind of spiritual life we’ve been talking about for weeks, won’t my shortcomings quickly come to the surface, and won’t my hypocrisy be exposed?

Jim: Do you realize that this kind of fear has kept a lot of very sincere people from taking the leap into a pursuit of a full spiritual life. For example, many people would never think of taking up skiing at your age because of their fear of falling down.

Michael: You keep talking like I’m an old man!

Jim: Sorry. But didn’t you have any fear of falling down this past weekend when you got off the chair-lift and looked down that steep hill for the first time?

Michael: Of course I did. But I knew that I would never learn how to ski if I didn’t take the risk. In fact, I did fall down quite a few times, but I kept getting up and trying again.

Jim: Just as the fear of falling down has kept many a person from ever learning how to ski, the fear of falling down spiritually—the fear of looking like a fool and appearing the hypocrite—has kept a lot of otherwise honest people from letting loose into the pursuit of a passionate and dedicated devotion to Christ.

Michael: You couldn’t have described my feelings better. But what should I do about it?

Jim: The first thing you should do is keep up a vigilant campaign against hypocrisy. Nevertheless, this campaign should be—at least for the present—a personal campaign rather than a public one. Fight personal hypocrisy in every way you know. Since this is already, I believe, one of your strengths, I’ll say no more. As to diving into spiritual life, you just have to take the risk and start. But let me make one practical suggestion. Don’t tell too many people that you’ve made a decision to move forward spiritually. Only share it with your closest spiritual friends—though definitely share it with them. Live it a while before you preach it. Let other people learn about it by … osmosis that you’ve made a decision to live all for Jesus. They’ll realize it soon enough, I can assure you. But living a lot and talking a little will go a long way to holding off your fear of appearing a hypocrite before others.

Michael: But if I begin to act like I want to live totally for Christ, I know a lot of people are going to begin pointing out my shortcomings …

Jim: Just like you’re aware of others’ shortcomings?

Michael: (sheepishly) Uh huh.

Jim: First of all, you’re not going to act like it, you’re going to actually, truly, and really begin living it. Second, you’re simply going to have to take a risk. You may be accused of hypocrisy occasionally. Just receive any valid points of criticism, take them to Jesus in prayer, and keep pressing on. God will build humility into your life through such experiences. Third, don’t start teaching until you’re very sure that teaching is what God wants you to do, because the Bible holds the teacher to a higher standard than the non-teacher.[1]

Michael: I wish I had more role-models and examples in my life.

Jim: Finding models who live the kind of life we’ve discussed is difficult these days. But don’t forget that Jesus himself is your model. All the saints in history have at one time or another felt the loneliness that a devoted life lived out in the midst of mediocrity can bring. You’ll occasionally feel this loneliness, too. But God will give you heart-friends along the way who will walk this path with you and encourage you in it.

Michael: I’m glad you’re such a friend. I’m sorry I’m not such a friend for you.

Jim: Don’t underestimate what your friendship has meant to me, Michael. Just concentrate on walking closely with your Lord and you’ll be more encouragement to me than anything you could possibly imagine.

Michael: Maybe I should try …

Read Questions Over Breakfast #12: Can One Person Change the World?

[1] James 3:1.