Tag Archives: expectations

Ponderings on Donald Miller Dustup

So Donald Miller wrote a series of why he doesn’t go to church posts and its caused more than a bit of a stir. He is a fairly big time Christian author, so as one might expect, his honesty caused no small amount of teeth knashing and other bits. Alas, out of 526 blog comments I read, no one tore their clothes… not sure what that means, but it was interesting.

There were two things struck me with the commentary on Donald’s series… First, many of the issues he brings up are spot on. Secondly, I perceived an underlying tone of many of the most ardent objectors that seems to indicate they are trying to convince themselves they are holding to a right position. If my perceptions are correct in this, no wonder church growth has been going negative… its not just more folks not believing.

Its not a new deal either. Folks have been leaving churches behind for centuries. You have folks in early Christian and other histoircal writings leaving the church for the desert. You have the Didache going so far as to state  itinerrant preachers and prophets who stick around for more than a couple days are not cool. Alas, leaving to get closer to God is probably not the largest cohort of folks leaving, but it most certainly is part of it.

My guess is that the larger number of folks who don’t attend is that church doesn’t seem as relevant to their life as it once did. In folks I’ve talked to over the years, Jesus most certainly is as important, or even more important than when they were regular attenders, but formal worship not so much. I’ve heard many a story of folks digging into the scriptures more, praying more, and being closer to God post leaving than they did when frequent attenders.

individual vs communal vs scaling vs bidirectional vs unidirectional

Thus we are at a paradox, but I sort of wonder if we haven’t been there for much longer than is apparent. My guess is a lot of things served as masks, and now that a couple bits have changed, the light penetrates deeper than it did in the past.

In the glory days of church growth, attendance was often by social command. Christian privilege was also a huge deal. If you didn’t show up, your name was mud. If your kids didn’t show up, your name was mud… peer pressure kept a lot of folks in churches. One problem with this of course is the lack of authenticity it creates. Ie Christian for 1 hour on Sunday and then its turned off until the next Sunday. A positive side is that repetitive experience, even if ones mind is 99% turned off can have lasting effects.

Beyond the social pressure of worship to maintain Christian privilege, we also have the scripture bit about not forsaking the assembly. I’m not convinced this is anywhere near the global prescriptive we read into it. Ie, its one thing to be encouraged to assemble to stay on track to build one another up etc… its something else when it becomes just another must do thing to get the suffering over with as quickly as possible. From Donald Miller

The subtext of these comments seemed to insinuate that God wants us to suffer for Him. But not suffer by reaching the poor or by being outcast, suffer, literally, by standing in a church service singing songs you don’t find catchy. Really?…..

He’s not calling us to be sanctified through dutiful boredom.
Yep, the whole gnostic leaning thought that we go to church for the spiritual side and we should ignore feelings and such is pretty counterproductive. Granted I’m not saying church services should be like a Journey, Grateful Dead, Def Leppard, Vikings, Packers, Bears, etc (insert favorite concert or sporting event here), but they ought not to be totally ignore folks feelings either. I remember a Catholic priest friend some years back telling me if he consistently didn’t get anything out of going to church, he wouldn’t be going either. I think he was right on the mark with that. Church cannot be a one way deal… consider the bride of Christ thing, and how no one in their right mind would enter a marriage if it was only a 1 way deal from the get go. Of course recognizing this is one thing, addressing it another. The trad vs contempo vs mixed vs integrated vs age specific thing is likely a bandaid deal.

I think there is also an issue of expectations… remove the social pressure to attend, and the scrutiny increases. Consider that Acts 2:42-47 presents a pretty hardcore model for church… Such might fly and sort of does in some university constructs in part due to their transitory nature… but in a regular community, such is near impossible human nature being what it is. Consider the following discussion from Carson T Clark and a church leader related to his ordination process.

After I’d carefully laid out my understanding, he replied something to the effect of, “That sounds more like AA than a church.” Wanting to make sure I was understanding him rightly, I asked for clarification.
He explained that that degree of transparency about psychological struggles, intellectual doubt, broken relationships, spiritual confusion, and the like was simply impractical for a local church setting. It was unfeasible.
“People may need to go outside the local church for that kind of growth and healing.”

Carson T Clark’s view was probably close to the Acts 2 texts…. I’ve seen many a recent grad carry similar idealism, only to have it blown to bits when its execution is attempted. This is not to say its not valid and/or that it can’t be done via picking and choosing bits and pieces here or there, but holistically it can’t work. Churches are hospitals for the broken, run by broken people, and crashes and burns are inevitable, its not a matter of if, but a matter of when… which is why such can work out better within a university context that a traditional parish… ie the membership is continually moving, long term scars and institutional pluses and minuses don’t have enough time to become dominant. This does pose a problem for the recent grad though… their experience has created Acts 2 expectations in a given form which is near impossible for a typical local parish to meet. (Or at least if they are brutally honest, it is near impossible to meet.)


Worrying and ministry phases

A friend in ministry was concerned about why she had so much more worry in her life now than when she was a child. Beyond the obvious issues of greater awareness, knowledge, and family responsibilites, there is also the aspect of worry based upon different phases of ministry. That led to this small book response, which is something I’ve been thinking through for a bit.

Moses Mode

Initially many of us start out going what on earth did I get into with this… God, why did you put me here… or as I used to tell folks, call me Moses, I am the least qualified, get someone else, and then finding myself going ok God, I’m stuck here, now what? In Moses mode, everything is new, and its as if a firehose is coming at you in a different direction daily where no matter how much prior education or somewhat related experience, its like HELP!!!! For me, I found there really was little worry at such times. Its overload city, but God provides a way, provides the words, provides the direction. Talk about dependance and having to trust in Him.

I got it, but what about God’s role

As experience grows, there is a tendency to have less dependance on God. One knows things to say, not to say, when to just listen etc…The personal freakout factor decreases. Then one starts second guessing a bit… did I get the theology right on the money, did I do everything right in counseling, or when an outcome turns out badly,what did I do wrong. Or really second guessing and being gun shy after a recent bad outcome, where it was obvious I blew it. Worry will build… the solution of course is taking it to the cross, leaving it there, and returning to that dependence on God. Yep, I know easier said than done.

Oh shoot, there are personal issues, and they are mine!

There is also the aspect that with experience comes greater personal accountability as exemplified in Luke 12. It could be the little things in our lives that initially we fail to see, or gloss over, that over time are brought to light and become a bigger and bigger deal. We are all broken, we will remain so throughout our lifetime on earth… but issues we may not have even been aware of early on get illuminated and we have to work through them as experience builds. That can add to worry. Ie am I being a hypocrite in this, how do I fix this, man, it was so simple before, why is it so hard now etc. Where is God in this? Bishop Mike Rinehart wrote something a while back where he talked about pain causing spiritual growth. At first I went huh… that’s a tad narrow, now I go, um… yep. Some of those things can be a real bear and a half to work through, and it can take some time, more than a lifetime if one really thinks it through. I think the issue is, whether its worry of being found out, ie the proverbial broadcast to the mountain tops deal or worry as part of identifying and resolving said issues. The former is a big problem, the later is part of spiritual growth.

Talents, much is required

And likewise in Luke 12 where much is given, much is required… yep, with the increasing experience God grants to us, more is required. I remember back to my days at Imago Dei, where in I’d be up working all night doing the maintenance thing, and then get a early AM knock at my door to find out, whoa, I need to haul a load of canoes and a youth group to an offsite location, followed up by Bible orienteering that evening etc It be like, ok, a freezing cold shower, a quick load up of the gear, and lets roll, no worries, we’ll get it done one way or another. Today, I’d hit the brakes on that sort of deal, and go ok… we have a problem here, what do we do, instead of jumping in pedal to the metal and not thinking through the potential problems. Of course, their is a balance point… worrying for the sake of worrying, albeit common, is vastly different than prudent analysis based upon prior experience.

Great Expectations

Also in Luke 12 there is the issue of greater expections, and this can lead to worry… People can come up with some pretty unreasonable expectations. Ie you’ve done this before, you can do it again… and then when it doesnt work out, one starts second guessing in a huge way. During my tenure, we nearly doubled in size, albeit the second derivative of active participation went negative (in other words, acceleration towards death) early on, and we had two major losses of members. I had no real worries over the 2 mass exodus periods, as they were expected, and in reality, were less than we figured (policy changes causing a split). The negative second derivative… I spent months worrying over that. What did we do wrong, what were we missing, and even today, I wonder, what did I miss,what could I have done differently, what could I have done better… Granted, we are called to preach the Gospel, and then leave the rest up to God, ie faith comes by hearing. But also we are not to put up stumbling blocks, and I sure rang up more than a few millstones. I guess in this case, its my own expectations more so than others, but it still tanks. And there in lies some of my own reticence to get back in the saddle. Yet, with experience comes further calling, to sit on that experience would be way uncool. I guess I need to take my own advice and take it to the cross and leave it there.

Is it time to move on?

And lastly is worrying over when its time to move on… How many times can one take their head and slam it into the wall. When does the spillover becomg problematic. Granted adversity is a given, and to add insult to injury worrying in and of itself can be self fullfilling and lead to a downward spiral, yet there often comes a point where one has to consider something different. Obviously dwelling on such is not cool, but then again neither is being oblivious to the situation at hand. Overstaying can result in a multitude of unintended consequences, just as bailing out too soon, and this too can lead to worry. My Baptist pastor friend says he uses effectiveness as a general guide, as it reduces the worry factor, and as such may make it easier to hear the still small voice. Ie, less me, more God as to when it is time. It seemed to work out pretty well for me last go round, so its a tool I likely will carry for a long time.