Asymmetrical relationships & the church

You have a boss. This boss is not your friend. But this boss thinks he is your friend. A pretty common scenario, right? I’m sure many of you have seen this sort of thing happen more than once, if not in your life, then in the lives of people you know.

The reason this just feels wrong is that you (the employee) can sense that your relationship isn’t on the same level. You might play on the same field but one of you is the coach… and it’s not you.

I call this an asymmetrical relationship, in that he signs off on your hours but you don’t sign off on his. Now there’s a certain strain of thought that says we should all be judged by our actions or potential, that bosses and parents and managers aren’t necessary, but let’s just leave that aside. The human condition being what it is means that asymmetrical relationships either will or must exist.

We’re all familiar with asymmetry in relationships — at least, we’re all familiar with a certain kind of asymmetry that we call “power”. And a lot of relational problems (but not all, not nearly all) are caused by too much or not enough asymmetry. Parents trying to be buddies, bosses trying to be friends, or the opposite where parents become cruel, or bosses become slavemasters. The worst case (at least for me) is a relationship that’s asymmetrical when it shouldn’t be, like a husband ruling and asserting dominance over a wife (or vice versa, though I’d say that’s much less common). None of this is to say you can’t be nice or good to your children or employees, or that husbands and wives can’t have different functions in their relationship, but that you should be aware of and respect the asymmetry or symmetry that’s always going to exist in your relationship. Essentially you need to authentic to the type of relationship you’re in.

But again, we all know that. So that’s not really interesting.

Instead I’d like to think about voluntary asymmetrical relationships (these tend to be troublesome), and asymmetry of motivation or intentionality.

Asymmetry of intentionality is why a lot of commercial transactions seem inauthentic when wrapped in something else. You get your name written on a cup at Starbucks, or employees of a chain of upscale grocery stores are mandated to refer to customer by name, or the employees at the restaurant sing a song, or the waitress flirts with you… the list goes on. I might just be particularly sensitive to this, but it seems to me there’s a real asymmetry of intention there. I want a good or a service. But they want… well they want to sell me that, plus something else, plus more in the future, plus a better tip… essentially they want to play-act into getting me to empty my pockets. Like a guy who hangs around a girl ostensibly to be friends when what he really wants is a relationship. It feels a bit creepy and weird. Especially when it’s a corporation.

And then there’s voluntary asymmetry. For instance (and I hate to break this to the church I grew up in) going to church and submitting to the authority of a group of elders or whatever power structure is in place is completely and utterly voluntary in this society. You can remove yourself from that authority without any consequences, no matter how much your church might wish that not to be so. This is true of any organization you attach yourself to. These organizations need to understand that: There’s no “power” structure here. The relational asymmetry is not that the church holds power over the individual, no, the asymmetry is the other way around. And unless you have a reason for people to stay (and despite what you might think, I don’t think “because we’re all Dutch immigrants” is a particularly bad reason), they just won’t. Sorry.

I’ve heard a lot of talk about how the church should be exempt from the marketplace, how we who show up should not be consumers who view the church as providing a spiritual product. I’ve heard people who I really, really respect and enjoy listening to say these things and I can’t help but think this is just a bit disingenuous. Every church has some kind of value. Again that might just be “because we’re Catholic and there’s nowhere else to go”. That’s the value your parish provides. It’s might not be a great or really very significant value, but it’s value nonetheless.

But again this comes back to being authentic to the asymmetry of your relationship. Your parishioners do most of the work and provide all of the money. Without them the church goes away. To be honest with them and with yourself is to say, “Why should you come here?” and then try to be that organization. You need to answer that question very carefully of course. If the answer sounds anything like “because we’ve been around for a while and would like to continue being around” maybe it’s time to close down shop. On the other hand if your answer is “We’re on a mission and we’d like you to be a part of it” and you mean it then you’ve got a good place to start.

You might think this is all a load of mercantile hogwash. And that’s okay. But if you’re part of a church that puts on a really good service every Sunday (and I’ll be very clear here, I think you should do that) you have to ask, Why the good music? Why the good preaching? Why the good venue? Why pursue excellence?

There are two languages you speak with these things, the language of words and the language of actions. You may say that you don’t do it to draw people in, but your actions say a different thing. And that’s okay. Different churches doing different thinks is what makes the Protestantosphere so vibrant, crazy, and interesting. (Yes I just made up a word; deal with it.)

I think I may have gone down a rabbit trail a bit here.

In any case. The key to this (as usual) is authenticity. You need to live inside the relationship you’re in, not pretend you’re in a relationship you’re not. This goes for churches, but for people too.

Now back to the dishes my wife, who is definitely my boss, told me to finish before I come to bed…

Legalization and cognitive dissonance

Can you support the legalization of something (on a public level) but take a moral stance against that same thing (on a private level)?

This is a really good question. I think the answer is “yes”, but I’m not sure.

The temptation is of course that we nationalise our morality. If we think something is wrong, well, then everyone has to. Tolerance is bad, because it legitimizes morally wrong lifestyles, and if you aren’t actively against something, then you’re passively for it.

We could get rid of a lot of these problems by just going back to a monarchy. Don’t like something? Well, the king did it, and the king was appointed by God, so even this must have a purpose.

The authors of the New Testament seemed convinced that the world would be the world, the church would be the church, and that was that. We give to God things that are God and Caesar things that are Caesar’s. We are not surprised when the world does bad things because they’re the world.

We’re on a bit of a different footing now, with our moral majorities, and the idea that we can simply enshrine our morality in law and that’s that.

I don’t think Paul was writing with democracy and megachurches and Republicans and the Southern Baptist Convention and culture wars and all this mixing of government and church together.

I wonder what he would have thought about it.

In any case, the question isn’t really about morality. The question only exists because we have the option to enforce our morality. The real question is about the church’s place in the world, about its agenda, and its means. If you lived in a non-democratic society, you wouldn’t even be able to ask the question — of course your morality is sphere-bounded to your own person or family. You can’t affect others’ lives. In our democratic era, suddenly we have a way, and we’ve (of course) taken that collective problem and individualized it. Which obscures the origin and context of the question.

I go further than just asking if we can enforce morality or simply be agnostic about it in the public sphere.

I ask if I can support legalization in public on one hand, and believe it is wrong to partake in that legalization?

You can slot any moral wrong in there: Drug use, prostitution, abortion, etc, etc. The human cost of criminalizing any (especially enduringly popular) activity is pretty clear. You create criminals, both in the form of gangs and the prosecuted. You create a cycle of victims, as most are afraid to come forward for fear of prosecution. You create an underclass of people who are voiceless and persecuted by the police, the gangs, and their own human failure. Legalization is, in my mind, the only real way to fix this.

But I think cocaine, for instance, is wrong. It’s something that you shouldn’t do.

So there’s some cognitive dissonance there, at least for me.

Small is beautiful – Church edition

There are very few large animals left on earth. I don’t mean elk large, I mean elephant large. Once there were many. Blame whatever you like for the decline, but the facts are clear. Being large is difficult.

Being small is easy or at least easier. Small things are more easily swapped in and out. Small things are more easily changed. We often talk about how much time it takes to turn a large ship around. We don’t often talk about how to design a more easily turned ship.

The answer of course is in what you want to do with your ship. If you want to go from Vancouver to Beijing turning isn’t an issue. Efficiency is. On the other hand if you want to go fishing in different spots every day turning becomes a big deal.

So how many things are like big ships these days? I can think of a few but not many. In an information age where organizations need to pivot on a nearly constant basis to keep ahead of the curve, the ability to turn becomes a big deal.

This isn’t the only concern. Large organisations inevitably grow power structures. Not the sort of power structure that small business owner has. A small business owner affects the lives of a few people and has skin (and soul) in the game. Large corporations affect thousands of people and are run by people who often don’t have any skin in the game at all. Think of the high-profile CEO who goes from company to company effectively gutting each one and earning a huge paycheque and bonuses along the way. In the worst case scenario, these executives are actively defrauding their stakeholders. Think of Enron.

This isn’t just a problem in the corporate world. It’s a problem in every organisation. The power problem doesn’t stop at companies. It infects governments, nonprofits, and even churches. Washington, DC is an example of an entire city build around power structures. Tell me if that town is sane, let alone getting its job done.

The power problem isn’t just about skin the game. It’s also about the structures that grow to support the powerful. Structures the powerful themselves create. They may not even know they’re doing it and yet it happens.

Take for instance the church. I want to pick on the church because I have skin in that game — I attend one and care about the wellbeing of the church in general.

Leave aside the Catholic church for a moment, which has a very obvious and historically problematic structure (let’s just say the child abuse scandal is not exactly an aberration). Let’s even leave aside the very structured Orthodox and Anglican churches. Let’s instead focus on the problems of the modern Anabaptist Protestant church.

On first blush the Protestant problem would seem to be not enough structure. Some of my Catholic friends are eager to point out that we’d have a lot fewer odd cousins in the Protestant family if we were allowed to take them out behind the barn and shoot them. This is not to say that the power structure isn’t there. It’s just not as obvious. Instead of being centred around the Pope or synods or classes (etc, etc), the power structure often centred around a single local church which expands outward to a movement which forms and organisation and on it goes.

This happens constantly. A single pastor rises above the rest, his church grows, he forms a church organisation, it grows, and eventually the whole thing collapses. This sometime happens under the auspices of existing denomination structures, other times outside of them, and other times organisations form vague associations.

No matter how it happens, the concentration and creation of power happens alongside. Then comes the books, the teaching tours, the conferences, the radio sermons, the ministries, the money, the salaries, the whole deal.

Again and again this leads to corruption in the church. The simple reason is that power insists upon itself. Even without realising it. There’s an entire cottage industry that exists solely to funnel money into these various organisations and therefore influence to their founders. When we talk about the rise of the CEO pastor, this is what we’re talking about. The rise of pastors who look and sound like businessmen, churches that are concerned about cash flow and market share, and organisations whose reasons for existence are dubious at best and essentially money laundering at worst.

I think of these things in terms of mission. What is the mission of the church? Does your church do that? Does your organisation do that?

For instance, you’re a CEO pastor. You have a church of 1000 people. You want to reach 1000 more people. What do you do? Well, a satellite church with a video feed from the main church of course! Ah, technology. Then another, then another, then another.

At what point did it seem to you that a video feed to a satellite gathering is better than setting up a new church with a new pastor? The point was when you realised that you were the main attraction. Call it what you want. Think of yourself as an excellent teacher. Whatever you need to justify your face being on that screen. Think of it as easier, cheaper, better, whatever. Either way, there you are.

Then you write a book. After all, the people in your extended congregations need to increase their personal piety, don’t they? So you write a book and sell it. Suddenly you have this money and this exposure you maybe didn’t have before, especially if the book becomes popular outside the limited audience of the screens your face reaches.

Then you start taking your face on the road. Conferences, teaching tours, a radio show, maybe even a TV show.

Then the real money starts to roll in. None of this is bad, none of this is evil. You’re reaching thousands, millions, even tens of millions of people!

You probably thank God for all this exposure, but you start pulling down a salary that says you really thank yourself. Then you meet some opposition in your organisation. Maybe someone objects to the CEO mentality you have. Maybe the situation starts to snowball.

Or maybe you find yourself signing into a hotel with a hooker and some blow, because (paradoxically because the demands of being a CEO pastor mean you have less free time in aggregate but more unaccountable free time in strange places).

Maybe your church is accused of actively covering up a child abuse scandal.

I don’t know. Either way, here you are, the CEO, the only thing holding this machine together. Maybe you fall apart, maybe you don’t. Either way, the damage begins. Or maybe you just die one day. Either way, things start to change.

What if, instead, we did things differently?

What if we had no CEO pastors with star power and teaching organisations and radio shows and book tours? What if we just cut all that stuff out?

I’m sure the personal piety of the average Christian would remain the same (pretty low in my case; you can be your own arbiter). I’m sure the impact of your book and your radio show and your array of satellite churches would be replaced by something else.

What if we decided that small was beautiful? Churches of, say, 200 – 300 people. What would that look like?

If I had to pick the most successful type of organism in the world, I’d have to say bacteria. Prokaryotes reproduce mainly by asexual binary reproduction. That is to say they grow, then they split. And they do this incredibly fast.

What if, instead of trying to be some mythical multi-headed beast, churches just got too big to be churches anymore and split off into two new churches?

I’ll tell you one thing that’s for certain: There would be a much better ecosystem of small churches. Instead of one church failing and orphaning thousands of people, a church could be gracefully shut down and folded into the (hopefully) myriad of small, local churches.

True, our “reach” might not be as great, but I think our impact would be. Instead of concentrating on a million people or 10 million people in our state or province or city, we could concentrate on the thousands of people in our communities, in the places we actually live and work. We could take ourselves out of national politics (and so very many people would heave a sigh of absolute relief) and put ourselves back into the realm of service on a local level. We’d be a much more welcome and less offensive group of people if we did that, I can assure you.

We’d also avoid all the problems associated with celebrity pastors and their seemingly inevitable downfalls.

It seems to me this is the better path: Smaller, nimbler, less visible, and more effective churches.

Reasons, Part 2

I wrote a post recently, talking about my (screwed up) approach to making decisions.

Today I decided it would probably be a good idea if I had a handle on my actual reasons for doing the things that I do, in this case once again finding a new church. I wrote a 4-page document with input from Laura, and I think I have a much better handle on my reasons. This is, of course, a private document, and goes into some pretty brutally frank detail (and to be honest, I’m not sure that it all addresses reality; it could very well be overwriting my past with the feelings of the present; human brains suck!). Here, instead, I will lay out a bit of a sketch that briefly covers 6 years of church adventures.

When Laura and I got married and moved to Mississauga, we were attending a church pastored by the minister who married us, a church called The Bridge. I had been semi-involved with The Bridge over a long period, from when it was a fairly large plant, drawing in students from Redeemer, to when it was in its obvious decline. The Bridge moved from a spacious old rented theatre, to a less-practical rented megaplex theatre, to a small room above a (I think) auto repair shop. A few weeks after we got married, The Bridge shut down.

All things considered, this was probably a good thing. We lived in Mississauga and The Bridge was in Burlington, a 30-minute drive then (and a 45-minute drive now). It wasn’t sustainable. Turns out the church wasn’t sustainable either. The last service was a baptism service in Lake Ontario, and we all went our separate ways. I haven’t spoken to anyone from The Bridge since. By the end of the church, all the people I knew had left anyways, so that’s not a huge surprise.

So we started church shopping. (I hate that term, but really, that’s what we were doing.) We quickly decided that a Reformed church was not our bag. I was raised in Reformed churches, and though there is a lot to recommend them, I would absolutely not consider joining another Reformed congregation, at least not as they exist in now. This left what I thought was a wide array of choices in Mississauga – surely a suburb of 600,000 people must have a veritable smorgasbord of great churches, right?

Wrong. Most of the churches in Mississauga are just really, really odd. We went to a couple Baptist church, some of which were all right, some of which were downright frosty. We even went to a megachurch called The Meeting House and were instantly turned off by the corporate, soulless feel of the place.

We decided to look for something smaller, something a little more intimate. Now, keep in mind that this was 6 years ago, and our wants and needs have changed since then. But at the time, small and intimate were our primary criteria (past the obvious doctrinal considerations).

And so we stumbled into Freshwater. The first week we were there, Jeff was preaching. Jeff’s preaching can be an acquired taste (a taste we did, shortly, acquire), and we were not overly impressed. In fact, had Joel, the pastor of Freshwater, not taken the time to invite us to the next week’s service, we probably wouldn’t have returned. Had Joel begged us to come again, Freshwater might have been just another in a long line of reasonably unremarkable church visits.

We did come back, though, and we stayed. I’m not sure what it was. It was small, maybe not intimate, meeting in a gym 5 sizes too big, but Joel’s preaching had a certain something. If I recall correctly, it was the kingdom/Jesus focus that really impressed us, with a dose of good historical and textual context added to the mix, things I have come to realise in the intervening years are very, very important to both orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

Other than that, though, I was never terribly thrilled by Freshwater. I took the occasional long look at the church and realised that were it not for the few good friends we had, the good preaching we were delighted to sit under, and the fact that we were both really involved, we’d probably be looking for a new church home at some point. This may not have been as true for Laura, as she had a few good female friends. But it was certainly true for me. In any case, Freshwater had its problems. It was not the perfect church, and I certainly don’t look back and think of it that way. At all.

Any soul-searching that we might have had to do was cut short by Freshwater folding. Specifically, it was folded into Churchill Meadows Christian Church. Everything changed. Eventually, Joel made his way out the door to become a cop. The strange thing is that CMCC took the facility (the gym that was 5x too big became a gym that was just a bit too small) and took the band, so for us it just felt like the same church with a new preacher and a bunch of new people.

When CMCC built their new building, the fact that this was no longer Freshwater really hit home. A few years too late? Yes. Again, I’m not particularly good at processing my feelings about things in a timely manner. Most of the Freshwater people were gone (I don’t think it’s unfair to say that CMCC and Freshwater were very different churches and that it’s not exactly rocket science that those people wouldn’t stick around). The leadership was different. The building was different. We had moved and had a child. Everything was really, really different now, both at church and at home.

This is one of those times I can really say, “It’s not you; it’s me”. Eventually we found ourselves facing the hard decision that neither of us wanted to face: It was either time to fish or to cut bait. We decided, this time, that it was right for us and for our daughter, to cut bait.

Again, I’m not going to go into a lot of depth here. We have no hard feelings. Nothing happened, there was no decision-defining altercation. Nothing “heavy” went down. We just left one day and never came back.

I don’t like looking for a new church. I really don’t. It took a long time of me scouring the web just to find the website of one that looked decent, Trinity Streetsville (an evangelical Anglican church, of all things; this is not something I even realised existed). We visited once and quite honestly were (as two very musical people) massively underwhelmed. In the meantime I was listening to the sermons online. That was enough to bring us back in the door. And it stuck.

I’m sure there’s something to be said about my personality and Laura’s personality that we’d even consider an Anglican church, much less consider making it our long-term home. I think personality matters a lot more than you think in these things. But there are a lot of really great things going on at Trinity, things I think we’re going to be a part of on an ongoing basis. It seems like an ex-Reformed church refugee camp, too; I’ve met more than a few people who come from a similar background to me. And that historical/kindom/Jesus preaching? Check.

Plus my parents are going to be happy when we get Audrey baptised. At least there will be more than one infant baptist couple in the family now.

Church without buildings…

I don’t know if I agree with everything here, but I found this Open Letter to a Church Planter wonderfully thought-provoking. Especially this passage:

Your goal, I take it, is to build a building for your church. That is a singularly bad idea.

  • Churches that build buildings end up paying through the wazoo to keep the thing going, and that money could be better spent in other ways. Every other thing gets out of whack when the church is about the building.
  • Churches that build buildings end up having an attractional approach rather than a missional one. You don’t want your new Jesus followers thinking that this whole thing is about getting people into your building. That’s a problem we are already dealing with throughout the evangelical church and you don’t need to propogate it among the hipsters and the homeless.
  • Churches that build buildings become identified with the building. You want to be identified with your community.

I could go on with reasons to stay away from building a building, but you can complete this exercise on your own.

There’s a kernel of truth in that.

I’ve learned a few lessons in life, so here’s your Aphorism Of The Day: “Don’t date a girl who’s going off to college, and don’t join a church that’s building a building.”

There might be a kernel of truth in that too.

Church as counterculture

The church has always been a counterculture of sorts. It serves a very useful function when it goes against the grain, when it challenges the assumptions of the culture. The church is strongly periodic in this respect. It sort of gravitates to the countercultural pole and then moves away for a while.

Regardless, the church needs to present a challenge to the culture. Just as a Christian understanding of metaphysics presents a challenge to Plato and other dualistic systems, just as a Christian understanding of morality presents a challenge to a world that doesn’t want to see anything as evil, just as a Christian understanding of mortality and the afterlife presents a challenge to the existing paradigm of temporality and meaninglessness, the church also presents a challenge to the culture’s view of sexuality.

Jesus challenges a rich young man with the prospect of losing his identity, of giving away all his money. The young man can’t do this, because he is defined in the first instance defined by his desire for wealth. If you can’t submit your money to the will of Christ, you can’t enter the kingdom. If you can’t part with who you are and what you want to do, you can’t enter the kingdom.

Jesus also challenges a culture that believes you are defined in the first instance by your sexuality. If you can’t submit your sexuality to the will of Christ, you can’t enter the kingdom. As Jesus says, “Go and sin no more”.

Post-Rock Church Music

Music doesn’t have to be lyrical to express its intentions. Some of the best music (in my always-humble opinion) uses a lack of lyrics to its advantage.

Post-rock can be that kind of music. It can be at once violent, celebratory, peaceful, overwhelming, and subtle.

I’d like to see some of that in our church music. I mean, not every week. But sometimes. Let the music speak in its own voice, instead of simply as a vehicle for those singing in the congregation.

Playing post-rock and listening to it are very similar experiences. It’s easy to get lost in the sound, even when you’re the one making the sound.

There’s something meditative and exploratory about certain bits of post-rock. In Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s “Static”, there’s a wonderful swell out of static into a minor-key 3/3/2 pattern on the guitar and violin (if I recall correctly, that is). It sounds to me like observing the universe being created. Suddenly from nothing there is something. The random becomes purposeful.

It’s almost monastic. In a church context it would be like practising purposeful silence. Shutting up, suddenly. Instead of always talking about how we want to worship, how we’re here to worship, how we will worship… we could just worship.

I know, it sounds like something ripped from the pages of our latest bugaboo, the liberals emergent church, but bear with me.

We could perhaps discover some of the artistry we’ve lost in transitioning out of the Roman Catholic Church. We could maybe, every once in a while, do something different and new and unusual.

It might be nice. Or it might not be, depending.

Different strokes

I’m part of my church’s band. I enjoy music, so this makes sense for me. I play music, I read about music, I record music, and I can talk about music for a long, long time. Longer, I’m sure, than you’d want to listen.

It’s always struck me how different musicians can be in live settings.

Some are very expressive. The intensity of the music is mirrored in their faces, in the way they interact with their listeners, in the way they move their bodies.

Others are more passive and reserved. They let the music itself do the talking. They want to interact with their instrument and their music more than with the listener.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that this is some sort of binary thing. It’s not one way or the other. It’s a spectrum, and every musician falls on the spectrum somewhere, in different ways.

Here’s the question: are you willing to say that one side of the spectrum is wrong and one is right? Do you want to make a value judgement on this issues? Are you comfortable saying that every musician must be expressive, or vice versa? I imagine you’re probably not. If you’re like me, you enjoy music on all different points of that spectrum.

Different styles of music tend to favour different points on that spectrum. Classical music is very much more about the music than pop music, which is very much more about the artist. Rock and roll more is about the artist, but then there’s shoegaze, art rock, and post rock that tend to focus on the music. Again, it’s a spectrum.

I bet you’re not willing to make a value judgement on that, either. (Though conflating personal preference and absolute truth has always been an all-too-human problem.)

So why are you not willing to make that value judgement about musicians, and music, but you are willing to make it about your evangelical congregation?

It’s a good question.

There are different styles of music. There are different types of musicians. And there are different ways of worshipping.

This is true within congregations, across races, and throughout history.

And still…

There’s something inside of you that says if they’re not clapping, if they’re not raising their hands, if they don’t look enraptured or at least excited, they’re not doing it right.

But maybe it’s not them.

Maybe it’s you.

Maybe you’re that Type-A kind of person that is naturally attracted to modern church leadership (the same type of person that is naturally attracted to business leadership and other high-octane jobs). Maybe you’re looking to find yourself out in the congregation. Maybe you don’t consciously do it, but maybe you look others who worship like you do, to the exclusion of other types of people.

Not everyone worships with their body. I don’t. I find it uncomfortable and off-putting. And I’m not alone. I’ve had conversations about this with so many people who have told me the same thing. It’s not that they don’t worship, or feel a sense of worshipfulness, or gladly come to church every week to be part of the service. It’s just that worshipping like an athlete is not natural to them. And when there’s a tacit (and sometimes explicit) expectation that they should, they feel alienated.

No-one likes to go somewhere to feel alienated. But that’s exactly what’s happening in worship services all over North America right now. If there’s a non-Fundamentalist niche of churches that take less expressive people into consideration, I haven’t found it. Or heard of it. Or heard anyone talking about it.

We used to have a traditional, down-tempo service at my church. We don’t any more, and I miss it. I miss playing it, and I miss worshipping in it. It was slower, less animated, and felt more worshipful to me. It was, in a word, more natural. It fit my temperament, my playing style, my nature.

That sounds a bit selfish, but I’m not the only person in the world with my personality and my temperament. I think I might actually be in the majority.

Sometimes we talk in band about the first service as it stands now. It’s more reserved. I’ve heard complaints about the atmosphere of it. We’re playing clapping music and no-one’s clapping. We’re playing dancing music and no-one’s dancing. We’re playing exciting music and you don’t look particularly excited.

That’s just not fair.

Maybe the problem isn’t with the people. Maybe the problem is your expectations. Maybe the problem isn’t them… but you.

Church community

Christianity is Trinitarian. This fact informs everything we think about and all that we do. I know we probably don’t spend enough time contemplating this (I certainly don’t), but there it is. We trace our orthodoxy back to the Trinity all the time, like finding the source of a great river. But we must also trace our orthopraxy there as well. The well-head is, as always, the three-in-one.

One aspect of this is the Trinity dwelling in community. The persons commune with each other constantly. Perhaps “community” is a bit of a weak word to describe this, but it’s the best we have.

It turns out that we humans dwell in community as well. The most important being the church, not simply communing with the saints of the past through study and tradition, but community on a more local and visceral level.

This is one of those basic things we tend to forget. Because it’s so basic. We figure it just happens. And for the most part it does, except when it doesn’t.

If you don’t try to build community, your church is going to be transient. It’s going to be like an inn, with people stopping by only in passing. It won’t seem real and organic. It will seem fake, glossy, and superficial.

People, after all, make the difference.

Real, organic, deeply-rooted community survives all kinds of things. Changes in leadership, bad preaching, what have you.

You don’t define your church as a place. It might be rooted to a building or a particular school gym or someone’s house, but it’s not a place. It’s a group of people. The direction the church takes determines the kind of people that will show up. It determines the sort of community that will be built or will build itself.

This is such a fundamental thing that you won’t notice it when it’s there. But you will when it’s not. We are made to fellowship, to exist in community. This is part of us bearing the image of God, that we see to do what he does. We seek his level, imperfectly, a corrupted, broken attempt, but we try nonetheless.

Introverts in the Church

I should note before you begin reading, that this is a Google Shared Item from Chris Hubbs’ blog. I didn’t actually write this (there was an issue with importing a few posts from the old blog).

I’ve been doing a slow-and-steady re-read of Adam McHugh’s Introverts in the Church, and words don’t well express how much I resonate with what he is saying. Just as I read Dilbert and think that Scott Adams must’ve worked where I work to get it that right, I read McHugh and think he must’ve served in the same churches I’ve served in. Amazing.

Last night I got to chapter 5, “Introverted Community and Relationships”, and found a few paragraphs that were so apt that I couldn’t resist sharing them.

As introverts seek to enter into and participate in particular communities, their trajectory of commitment may take a different shape than that of their extroverted counterparts. extroverts, who want to increase their level of involvement, may proceed roughly in a straight line as they move from the periphery into the nucleus of the community.

The journey of introverts into a community, however, is better conceptualized as a spiral. They take steps into a community, but then spiral out of it in order to regain energy, to reflect on their experiences and to determine if they are comfortable in that community. They move between entry, retreat and reentry, gradually moving deeper into the community on each loop.

The introverted path into community, much to the confusion of many extroverts, never reaches a point in which the spiraling form is shed.

You know how it feels when someone puts words to something that you’ve always felt and experienced but haven’t been able to describe? That’s how I feel when reading that passage. That’s what my pattern has been, or has needed to be, for the past 10 years.

Some more:

An introverted college student I worked with…encountered several reactions when he chose to step outside of his community after two years of consistent participation. Extroverted leaders chided him for his lack of commitment and were convinced that his pulling back was indicative of a larger spiritual problem infecting his heart. The pastor of the community arranged meetings with him to understand what was happening and what was the source of his dissatisfaction with the group. These efforts, as well intentioned as they were, only pushed him further away instead of drawing him back into his previous level of commitment.

And yes, I’ve been there. And I’m thankful to be in a place now where that isn’t happening.