What we can learn from Tony Robbins

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I have watched the Netflix documentary, I am not your Guru, four times now. I have a confession. I enjoy Tony Robbins.

For years, I have heard Robbins as a guest on a podcast I enjoy. I have seen his books in the store but I had never watched any of his specials. When the Tim Ferris podcast mentioned I am not your Guru, I was skeptical, but curious.

One thing struck me early on as I watched. If you can get past the language barrier—he drops the “F bomb” a lot—the Tony Robbins “Date With Destiny” event looks very similar to a modern church. (The banner photo at the top of the page is a photo I took at my church).

Robbins steps onto the stage as upbeat, positive music plays to energize the audience. He speaks, he gives personal testimonials, and he interacts with people in need. Just like a church, everyone in the audience is struggling with something. The big difference between a Tony Robbins event and church is the price. People pay as much as $6000 for tickets to the six day event and travel from around the world to attend. One woman sold all of her furniture to get enough money to attend. Many of us skip church if it looks cloudy outside.

As Christians, what are we missing?

Church is not a club and it is not a social event. Church is a hospital for broken souls. At least, it should be. Can the church take a page from the Tony Robbins playbook and find better ways to reach people in need?

Maybe.

Early in the documentary, Robbins mentions God. He mentions being “spiritual” many times but mentions God only once.

“God’s wealth circulates in my life; God’s wealth flows to me in avalanches of abundance; all my needs, desires, and goals are met instantaneously by infinite intelligence; and I give thanks for all of my good now and for all of God’s riches, for I am one with God, and God is Everything!”

He’s right. God is all there is. Sometimes, as the bumper sticker theologians tell us, “sh*t happens.” When it does, that is where the modern church often fails its audience. When members of a congregation, or the community, struggle we often see the church dishing out bad advice or ostracizing people instead of embracing them.

Robbins is unafraid to share the story of his troubled childhood but he is quick to point out he is not a victim. As we say in my counseling groups, you learn more from your trials than from your triumphs. Robbins counts U.S. Presidents, foreign leaders and celebrities among his personal clients. He’s been ranked as one of the leading business intellectuals in the world. Not bad for a guy who grew up in an abusive home and never finished college.

People can be like addicts seeking immediate gratification. A relationship with God is a process that often requires patience. In the Gospel of John, Jesus said “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” Two verses later, scripture tells us that most of his disciples turned away and stopped walking with him.

The spirit gives life but the people wanted answers in the flesh.

Why do so many appear to be disenchanted with church? Is it judgment they perceive from others, the music, or the lack of direct answers to real problems? It could be any of those things and more.

People are looking for answers in life. Most want to believe God is there and most want to believe God cares for them. Most people, even the churchiest of the churchy, have very little real faith. Increasingly, people see the church as a superficial experience. If we really want to reach new people, I believe, we have to get out of our seats and meet people where they are. We have to stop saying creepy things like “love on people” and actually serve them. We have to stop saying dumb things like “I was fed by that sermon” and start feeding the hungry.

We have to understand people are clamoring for meaning in life and that is more important than passing the offering plate. Real answers come when we act like real people.

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