Salvation is Sloppy 1

Two Outlook Shifts to Help Established Churches Experience Change

Here is something to test your local church culture for if you are interested in being a part of another persons story of faith: Suggest changes to either your worship setting, time, or structure. If you find much resistance or you even see people’s heads spin around and vomit green pea soup, you may want to keep reading.

Chances are, you are part of a small church…200 or less in worship on Sunday. Statistically, most of the churches in the US are small churches and half the churches have less than 75 people on a Sunday.

(A great read…for later. You know after you read and comment on this page. [prodigalthought.net (Jan. 2011)]

I suspect, based on my (not so scientific) collection of anecdotal evidence and personal experiences that many of them suffer from a subtle yet powerful cultural plague. Each of us have belonged to some group or organization where we experienced unwritten expectations. The culture polices itself and creates its own rules on how to act and what is acceptable behavior.

Normally, these behaviors play a healthy role in the group. Classrooms have an expectation of quiet for sake of sharing and processing information. Families have a hierarchy for direction and defined roles for the care of one another. Work places clearly identify safety and production expectations designated for the success of the company. And yes, your church is replete with behavioral norms and expectations for its many gatherings.

All of these expectations tend to benefit the health of the organization and in particular the members of that group. In the church however, we often cross that delicate cultural balance between organizational health and rigidity for the comfort of established members. Our traditional behavior and practices become ritualistic very nearly to an unhealthy level. Our dignity and poise in the presence of God have become damnable offenses because they often hinder the fresh expressions of faith new believers feel compelled to experience. Our spaces and our worship become sterile.

How else can we explain the amazing potential of church plants in reaching new people for the Kingdom of God? Their unestablished and fluid culture attracts those who yearn to know God without restriction. The initiation of those who flee the darkness of sin into the Grace of God can often be an emotional event. Change causes the release of energy that manifests itself through emotions, activity, and fresh desires for ministry opportunities. The establishment often meets this release of energy with measured response (restriction) due to an overdeveloped maturity.

Our behavior makes a claim that we would never make with our lips: We are just what God intends for us to be the way we are.

I have heard the statements that those new people should just get along with the ministry that’s already in place. I see two problems with this mindset that established churches can change if they are willing to shift their outlook. First, the underlying assumption affirms a belief that everything the church does fully honors God just the way it is today. The truth being that change would make the established church uncomfortable. GOOD! I never get a sense of comfort from the Gospel. I find plenty of instances where the Bible honors contentment but not comfort. Contentment does not mean acceptance of ideal circumstances but acceptance of the circumstances as they are.

The first shift needs to be a realization that we probably are not collectively all that God intends for us to be. This becomes a means of practicing humility. Our behavior makes a claim that we would never make with our lips: We are just what God intends for us to be the way we are.

The other shift in outlook affirms the belief that by the Grace of God the other has something to offer the established church. The presumption of the church is to look at the newly initiated as having nothing of substance to offer the community. This ignorance, or perhaps arrogance, on our part, denies the righteous work of the Holy Spirit to shape the community from the outside in. The established church should welcome the exchange of new ideas from new people as the opportunity to experience God’s grace with fresh eyes.

I liken this to the practice of remembering our baptism. In my experience within the UMC, we often witness the baptism of children in infancy. When we do it right as pastors, we invite the congregation to remember their own baptism as they participate in this sacrament. The idea being that no matter how long ago we experienced baptism, we are shaped by what we see and understand about what is happening before us. Many of those practicing this act of remembrance were also baptized as infants and have no memories to call on but instead have been shaped by their presence at these holy acts.

Our culture within the life of the church should invite this same spirit of remembering and observing change in order to be shaped by the Living God. Practicing humility and welcoming change reminds us of the sloppiness of salvation. I hope and pray your church spills over with the mess that is salvation.

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