Summary review up to August 2013

I’ve covered a lot of stuff so far in these blog posts each week, and today as I searched for what to write, I felt the strongest promptings in the area of restating what I believe I’ve shared so far, but bringing it all down to one posting and trying to show you how much of it is tied together, not separate thoughts but part of a system of thinking. Each paragraph starts with a heading, and that heading is a link to the original posting if you want to go back to it.

Expectations: Everyone in a church has expectations. Those expectations are ‘normal’ to you. So normal you feel odd having to state them to someone who does not know them. Like the expectation of an offering being taken after Lord’s Supper, or the expectation you are going to eat chicken at the church picnic, or the expectation that a pastor should look a certain way and behave a certain way, and should always be accessible, and many many more. Most of these expectations are never spoken, we “just know them” somehow. And we certainly know when they have not been met. Trouble is, for anyone like me who comes here new, who hasn’t been raised here, will not know the same things you know ‘naturally’ like common sense. One huge expectation that rural churches have that is not usually ever named out loud is that their pastor should be sociable, friendly, outgoing. (This is not such a big expectation in Urban areas) If those expectations are not defined and written down for someone new, I ask you, is it really fair to expect them to know them? No it is not. In fact it can take some time to learn them. So, one small part of some of the challenges you have had recently is that you had expectations that were not made clear up front, and then they were not lived up to. That is very very dangerous and damaging. And I am only speaking of expectations between a congregation and a pastor. A way to make this less of a problem is to become aware of the expectations we / you have, and be clear about them, discuss them. Once you realize that you might be upset with someone else because they did not know your expectations, you can be a bit calmer in sorting them out. Some of your expectations I (or any pastor or person) can not or will not meet. Others, once I know what they are, can be discussed as to their fittingness, and if fitting, can be adjusted for. But you need to know that just because they are ‘normal’ and comfortable to you, that does not mean they are best or right or make sense to someone else.

Inreach and Outreach: Expectations within a congregation can clash. Some expect the church to be 98% about outreach to the community, and others believe the church should put 98% of its energy into what I call In-reach or fellowship. If some kind of an understanding is not achieved between such different expectations, you will remain a church in tension within itself. Then, if your expectation is that your pastor favour your expectation, or that your pastor referee between the two, you can see how complicated this gets. We need to learn to have conversations where we find common ground on vastly different areas of expectation.

Layers: As churches move through their life-cycle, much like people, they accumulate memorabilia. We take the basics of the gospel message, convert the expression of it into cultural practices, and accumulate those practices. Do you think Jesus used a pulpit? wore a suit? played piano? had a set time where he preached and how long? All these are cultural layers we have added to what being followers of Christ is all about. The problem with them is that we accumulate far too many of them, and we get attached to them, and we put up a fuss if someone says we have to ‘downsize’ by a few layers to get back to the basics. Another problem is, as I hope to point out come Reformation season, we forget the meaning of the layer we’ve become attached to, but in clinging to it we are not able to find fresh ways of presenting the most exciting thing about being siblings of Jesus. Those fresh ways of sharing are the best chance of people out in the world hearing the message. The way we heard it and learned it went the way of the belt driven thresher. So, we need to be ready to ask of ourselves if some of our practices hare layers that need to be set aside.

Accidental Exclusion: When we are caught up unthoughtfully in living out our expectations and the layers we prefer in the church, many of our actions will be experienced by others as something similar to a ‘secret language’ or code that they don’t know the key to. When we develop self-awareness of our own expectations, and that those of others may not be the same, we can be great connectors, great bridge builders for those who are new to our context. Of course, you have to actually care about newcomers feeling comfortable too. If you are 100% about fellowship with those you already know, then this is category will seem like a waste of words.

Finding a common passion or calling Part 1 Part 2: In that set of posts I shared that I was wondering about why we readily abandon methods of creating a material harvest when we believe they are no longer serving our purposes, yet we cling to a lot of old methods to accomplish what we believe will be a spiritual harvest. If our passion for spiritual growth and spreading the good news was anywhere near as keen as our passion for greater farm production, we’d be as cutting edge in the church as on the field. It’s an odd situation. I believe that church members need a certain fire in the belly passion for God himself and for sharing God’s message, otherwise things in the church stagnate, at least when it comes to Kingdom fruit. A church can live for a long long time in a spiritually deadening state. So part of what I hope God lets me bring to you is a refiring of your ‘first love.’

Frog dissection and preaching: I wrote a post in which I described some of my approach to preaching. Scripture is a living thing a living story, that we are in danger of killing by disecting and explaining. I try to respect it’s Life force by explaining without killing.

Trauma at letting go of that without which we think we cannot live: Ty Hofman got me onto thinking about that. Going back to the expectations and layers, we get attached to our expectations and layers in an unhealthy way. Some even become enslaved. These are like security blankets. Children that became attached to one in childhood, may have had good reason to need that security at that time, but there comes a time when in the faith journey we need to trust God and let go of securities that have passed their prime.

Correction lines: I compared the adjustments of the STM time to the adjustments in the roads to make a nice mathematical grid work with a round earth.

Victim or Victor?: I shared how some people become wrapped up in a victim mentality. For example someone excessively attached to a security blanket will claim they are being persecuted or picked on if someone is trying to take it away. It helps us all to start seeing that in ourselves if we have it, and to start realizing it is not true. But in our culture today, those who cry victim get a lot of attention, so it is hard to break someone of this. In Christ, we are victors, not victims. He took care of the victim part.

Reverence and Formality: This post was an attempt to explain how those two are not the same thing. I was beginning to understand that some people were being stretched too hard by my informal and casual and interactive ways. Even reading Psalter Hymnal forms in a conversational tone of voice threw people off, and they did not believe they had been used. Formality is one of the layers and expectations we need to re-examine.

Church is Not a Democracy / Tyrany in the church: In these two posts I argue the church is actually supposed to be a system of God appointed and God anointed leader/servants. Anything else and the will of the majority of the people or of the few-but-loud-and-demanding can derail a congregation from God’s purposes.

Principles and Practices: This one is very very important. I am seeing that more the longer I am here. What many of us learned as Reformed Practices — which were based on Reformed Principles whenever they were begun — have been kept up as practices (can you say blue hymnal? or formulary? or Catechism preaching?), but the principle or meaning behind them has been lost or is not as pressing or relevant today. I have come to see that a good bit of my work here will be in restoring us to understanding the principles, dropping some expectations and some accumulated layers of practice and finding ways of putting the good Reformed principles into new practices.

Why no consistent Catechism preaching: And so in this post I tried to explain how catechism preaching has fallen by the wayside, with good reason, even though the content of the Catechism remains good. Today we need a different kind of education, and only key parts of the catechism need or can be shared. There are so many struggles believers find pressing that it does not address, so I believe we do better to address those in many cases. We need to learn anew that God is about relationship, that our whole beings can be involved in relationship with God, not just the mind, and so on.

In one of the most recent posts I included some explanation of “hurting people hurting people” and I intend to expand on that in the near future. Like those with a victim mentality, much chaos is caused by people with unrecognized hurt or trauma from the past passing on that hurt, oftentimes unawares. I might even work it into a sermon on the”‘sins of the fathers until the third and fourth generation” instead.

I’m hoping that this summary can help you begin to see that in my mind these postings are all connected and related, and build on each other. Even though I wrote most of them separately in response to a situation, I have been laying foundational ideas before you that I operate on.

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