Thursday, January 17, 2013

Adjusting Expectations

Each individual or family comes to church with their own expectations. Whether it's someone attending for the first time or a longtime member, we each may expect different things out of the church. Based on my experience, here are some general examples:

  • The oldest among us may expect certain social or fellowship activities such as dinners and game groups, like they've always known churches and communities to provide.
  • Families may expect groups or events for their children, either simply to get them involved in something, to help teach them about faith or morality, or even just because it'll look good on a college application.
  • Youth may expect something worth engaging in. Not necessarily to be entertained, but to be engaged: to be taken seriously, to have room to ask questions, and to be validated for who they are.
  • Those in need may expect help, be it a gas card or a program that helps sustain them in weak moments.
There are other programmatic things we may expect: opportunities to learn more about the Bible or discipleship, engaging worship, a chance to be in community, to be welcomed, preaching that relates the Bible to everyday life (variations on this phrase has appeared on every church profile I've ever read while in Search and Call).

In large part, we may expect our churches to do or be certain things for us. None of the above mentioned things are bad or not worthwhile, and there's no reason for churches not to do their best within their means to encourage and organize education, mission, worship, and fellowship for members and non-members alike. But they do all happen to be things that we want to be provided for our benefit in some way.

We need to adjust our expectations for the church and for ourselves.

These expectations need to include what we expect to contribute to a community: how we help organize fellowship, how we encourage or engage our children and youth, how we help ease the needs of others, what kind of energy we bring to worship, how we welcome others.

There's nothing new about what I've written here. People have been saying it for years. Really, people have been saying it since the days when Paul and others were writing their epistles. Along the way, churches have become more consumer-oriented than contributor-oriented, be it the sale of indulgences and icons in various parts of the Catholic church's history to most of the modern American Christian Industrial Complex.

Rather than asking what the church can do for us, we should be asking what we can do for the church. And if that sounds too much like trying to prop up the institution, we should be asking what we can do for others on a spiritual journey similar to our own. It's not really meant to be an either-or, but a both-and: community is about what we give as well as what we receive.