5.15.2007

Shedding expectations

David Fitch, a pastor, church planter and professor, has posted a great Top 10 list of expectations one must shed (in his opinion) in a "21st Century Missional Church Plant." It's not as funny as one of Letterman's, but it includes some great wisdom from a veteran church planter that any "church person" looking at getting involved in such a community ought to think about.

Fitch's list isn't all that surprising, but it does show how deeply the assumptions we have about church run. As a long-time churched person starting to explore a less traditional faith community, I see a lot of myself on both sides of Fitch's list. Maybe you will, too...
1.) Should not expect to regularly come to church for just one hour, get what you need for your own personal growth and development, and your kid's needs, and then leave til next Sunday. Expect mission to change your life. Expect however a richer life than you could have ever imagined.
To be fair, one shouldn't expect this in any church community. But the consumer focus of our culture often spills over into the religious realm. In every congregation I've been in there were people who suffered from empty mug syndrome, just waiting for the pastor/leadership or a program to "fill them" so they could go back to their lives. Fitch's key point -- "Expect mission to change your life" -- echoes Dallas Willard's critique of the church and spiritual formation. Too many people want to fit the Gospel into their lives, rather than have their lives changed by the Gospel. And in some cases, unfortunately, the church accomodates rather than challenges.
5.) Should not expect a raucous "light out" youth program that entertains the teenagers, puts on a show that gets the kids "pumped up," all without parental involvement. Instead as the years go by, with our children as part of our life, worship and mission (and when the light shows dim and the cool youth pastor with the spiked hair burns out) expect our youth to have an authentic relationship with God thru Christ that carries them through a lifetime of journey with God.
He's onto something here. In many cases we've outsourced our kids' spiritual formation to the church instead of taking responsibility for them. I regret buying into that when my kids were young, expecting Sunday School to teach what the church should have been helping me to teach. St. James was a rarity among Lutheran churches in having Sunday School during worship. I think it was a weakness in our program -- and I really supported the parents who wanted their children to be in worship instead of in class. I believe that seeing their parents and other adults practicing their faith and taking worship seriously is an important lesson for children with lasting implications for their spiritual development. But it's a real challenge to shape worship experiences that can include children, at least some of the time, and also equip parents to help in their kids' formation.
10.) Should not expect arguments over style of music, color of carpet, or even doctrinal issues... Expect mission to drive the conversation.
I about fell off my chair laughing when I read this one. One worship committee I was apart on had lengthy discussions -- anually! -- about the color of the foil wrappers to be ordered for the Easter lillies and pointsettias at Christmas. I never got to make decisions about carpeting a sanctuary, but I have been around more worship wars and doctrinal debates that I care to. At our recent synod assembly there was little mention of the poverty and violence that plagues our region, but people lined up at the microphones to debate resolutions dealing with ordaining people in same sex relationships. Too many people look in at debates such as these in our denominations and judicatories, and at the insider/outsider divides and "we've never done it that way" arguments in our congregations, and just shake their heads and walk away, when the mission of God might just engage and inspire them!

Fitch doesn't number his last point, which neatly summarizes the shift in expectations he is talking about:
Should not expect that community comes to you! I am sorry but true community in Christ will take some "effort"and a reshuffling of priorities for both you and your kids. ... (A)ssuming you are a follower of Christ (this message is not for strangers to the gospel) you must learn that the answer to all those things is to enter into the practices of "being the Body" in Christ, including sitting, eating, sharing and praying together.
Amen. Reshuffling our priorities is an important spiritual discipline for our time, one our churches need to learn so that they can instill deeper practices into God's people. And that's not a matter of parlimentary procedure, or a full schedule of programs, but living together in relationship and sharing meals, worship, service and prayer.

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