Searching for “IT” at Church

This week I had what I consider to be quite a breakthrough spiritually. A little background on how this happened. A friend of mine from work and I had talked about playing this golf course that is very good (like top 50 out of about 17,000 in the world good) but we had never played there. We started talking about it a bit last week, he called, found out the offer a military discount, and all of a sudden, we were booking a starting time and planning to make the drive over. We get there and the course just lacked that “it” that makes something really connect. I’d seen pictures of the course, talked with people who had played, seen professional events played there, and so forth, so I had huge expectations about the course. I did not feel like the course quite met those expectations. As I said before, the course lacked “it.” What I mean is that the course lacked that thing that you can’t quantify or really describe that makes certain movies, songs, speeches, or other things really connect with you beyond just the words and mechanics.
I had a thought pop into my mind about this and wondered if we sometimes do the same thing with church? Are we too busy looking for that mysterious “it” in our churches that we miss some of the great things about the church? I think that often times we do get too busy looking for “it.” This goes beyond being able to feel the spirit, that is something that I think we should be able to recognize. Looking back, I feel that perhaps the gentleman I described last week who I feel has left the church was too busy trying to find “it” to stop and notice what was great at church and what was great in his life.
Second, I had to ask it having these huge expectations about something can affect what we think? Looking back, the golf course that we played was almost certainly one of the 5 best courses that I have ever played. How much of the course and the journey around it did I miss because I had huge expectations and played around expecting to find “it” in order to meet those expectations? Again, I surely feel like this is the case in churches. We work so hard to get new, unchurched people into our congregations, but how well do we temper their expectations for what the church will be and what it can provide? I think we talk our churches up into this level of greatness that is nearly impossible to attain. So, when we get new folks, they come in expecting greatness that might never happen, either because of “reality” or just their perception. But what happens when they leave disappointed? Ideally, they give the church another chance and stay around. But in reality, we know that is not the case most of the time. A person is disappointed and then decides to leave. We have to be sure in these cases that we are not setting expectations so high that people end up leaving with heads hanging in disappointment.
I used this in a lesson we taught today to a guy who was recently baptized in our congregation (I actually performed the baptismal ordinance, the first one I did). I brought up a passage from Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book where she writes about telling the new members of her congregation honestly that they will eventually be disappointed in something the church does. She asks them to commit at that time to stay around when such a thing happens. That’s an interesting point of view to have, but quite truthful. I put it that way to him at church today. This congregation will disappoint him if he stays in this area for long enough (he’s a student, so he might move in a year or so). I also told him to keep his expectations reasonable. Don’t set the expectations so high that they’re impossible to meet. I felt like it was necessary to tell him honestly that churches are not perfect. That might seem like common sense, but I wonder if that is the honest message we give to folks.
So that was a pretty big step for me spiritually. I need to make sure my expectations are reasonable in all areas. Churches are not perfect no matter how much we might want them to be. I can’t let my expectations to cause me to look off in all directions for the mysterious “it” while the greatness is there looking me in the eyes.


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