Are there NPC’s in our churches?

It was only yesterday that I didn’t know what these plain cartoon characters were about. Now I know. The New York Times has reported that it is the pro-Trump Internet’s favorite insult. It took watching a few YouTube videos for me to grasp their significance.

The short version is this: NPC stands for Non-playable Character, and it comes from the online gaming world, where there are some characters that are generated by the game’s program, and they have no thoughts of their own. It became significant when a group of internet trolls created Twitter accounts and used versions of these characters to spout leftist bullet points and urge people to vote on November 7th, the day after Election Day. Twitter suspended about 1500 accounts for participating in this egregious form of free speech. And now these characters are all the rage, delighting conservatives in the know and triggering sensitive liberals. And I knew nothing about it until I decided to find out why they ere showing up on Facebook and YouTube.

I am quite aware that there are many foolish people who have few thoughts of their own, who are so peer dependent that they are afraid of being independent. But this is not limited to civic involvement. Many fields of endeavor have their posers who have learned to parrot the right things to earn acceptance. Whether you are a man using pick-up lines on gullible girls, or a teenager wearing the trendiest clothes so you will be cool, being fake is not a new thing. We’ve all done it, but that does not keep us from taking perverse delight in someone else being exposed in his fakery.

As a minister of the Gospel, I have been dealing with many church members who could be classified as NPC’s. They seem to have no role to play other than helping to fill a church sanctuary, and giving some token offerings. They are not particularly bad. nor are they particularly good. They are interchangeable with other members who seem to have no individual calling or passion that drives them. They are often in attendance, but never in charge. They are the church’s NPC’s: Nominally Participating Christians.

How do we recognize participation if it is not being merely present? It is not by its perfection, or high achievement. Mistakes are made and losses are suffered. But the Authentic Player is invested. He steps out and puts his faith to the test. We see them in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30.

In this parable there are three servants. Each is given a sum of money to invest by their master, who is going away for awhile. They each get different amounts. Two of them put their master’s money at risk and make a profit. But one buried his master’s money in the ground, and dug it up to give it back because thought the master was harsh and unreasonable. This man was called lazy and worthless and was rejected. He did not play the game. He was just there.

I am sometimes called negative for pointing out failure. I do it so that a course correction can be made, not to demoralize anyone. Likewise, Jesus told this parable to help people realize that they are expected to play the game, take risks, be invested. The one who buried the talent blamed the master for being too hard. That doesn’t cut it.

As I go about my business of seeking laborers for the Lord’s harvest, and as church members make excuses for why it’s too hard to play God’s game, it will be hard for me not to see these people as NPC’s: fearful of taking risks or making investments or making mistakes. I can’t tell if they are lazy servants who will be cast into outer darkness, or if they are just weak brothers and sisters that need to be carried a little further. Which ever it is, God’s word tells us to warn the idle among us (2 Thessalonians 3:6).

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