My church’s Life Groups will be reading Thom Rainer’s I Will: Nine Traits of the Outwardly Focused Christian.
I finished the book. It’s essentially the response that a lot of Christians give to those who are disenchanted with church. It tells them that church is not about what they can get, but what they can give: worship, service, etc. Maybe there is something to that. Not every criticism of church should be casually dismissed with that pat answer, though.
I will be attending my Life Group and blogging about it. Essentially, I will mention theological points that people make. I will not be sharing things that are supposed to be confidential. Nor, for that matter, will I be compromising anyone’s anonymity. I will probably refer to people by a letter that is not associated with their names. My goal in writing these posts is to preserve people’s insights for future reference, and to process what people said. That is how I get something out of church, books, and small groups: by blogging about what I hear.
During the Fall, my Life Group was going through Robert Morris’ The God I Never Knew, which is about the Holy Spirit. I only went to two sessions of that, and the reason was that I sprained my ankle. People in the group offered me a ride, but I turned them down because I was recovering. Also, I did not want to feel compelled to attend. I wanted to walk there myself because then it would be my own personal decision each week to attend, or not to attend. I value my personal autonomy.
Someone from the group is giving me a ride this time around. The group will meet for five weeks. The group has been welcoming to me, even though I am different from the others there: I am the youngest, and I am the only male. I am attending the morning group because I prefer to have the rest of the day to myself. There are things that I like about the group. I do not agree with some of the perspectives that people share, but there are diverse opinions in the group, and people are tolerant of each other and open-minded. I also like how we begin each meeting with five minutes of silence, so that we can be grounded and open to God.
Like I said, we will be going through Thom Rainer’s I Will. One problem I have with Rainer’s thesis is that some of the people he talks about who became disenchanted with church were involved in church. They did not just attend worship services, but they were serving and active in the church. Yet, they were disenchanted. What is their problem? Do they simply need an attitude adjustment? Do they need to serve joyfully, with a smile on their face? I picture a sled-driver telling his doggies to “mush, mush, mush!”
I do agree with Rainer that one should not be nit-picky. Things are not going to be perfect, according to anyone’s standards. One should try to focus on the positive, and maybe even serve. That is true of me. That does not mean that every place should be a fit for everyone: people may find that certain environments suit them better than other environments, and they should feel free to explore as opposed to feeling forced to “tough out” wherever they are. Still, one should not be overly nitpicky.
It will be interesting to see how people in the group process this book. I hope that I am not criticized for not serving enough, though.
I would like to share a couple of things from the book that I actually liked.
First, on page 27, Rainer states that people should not go to church for a worship experience, but rather to experience God in worship. (I do draw from Rainer’s language in that last sentence). That is an interesting way of looking at worship. I almost missed this gem, but I felt that I should go back and reread it. That happens often when I am reading and gloss over a gem: something in my mind tells me to go back and reread the passage, since I just missed something important!
Going to church for a worship experience prioritizes feelings: I want an emotional high from worship. I want to feel special in God’s eyes as a result of worship.
But, rather than imposing these expectations or desires on worship, how about seeing the issue differently? I do not have to conjure up God’s presence as a way to make myself feel better. God is already there at worship. We will be celebrating aspects of God’s character through the songs and the readings. What I need to do is participate. The focus should be on God.
Second, on page 51, Rainer gives examples of how church members can serve: “They might write encouraging letters to other members. They might visit and serve the homebound. They might work in a local missions house. They might clean the church or work in landscaping around the church facilities. They might pick up trash in the community. They might get involved in a prayer ministry. They might work in the church ministry or preschool.”
This is an important passage for me, because I am the sort of person who would reply to calls to service with, “Well, what exactly do you want me to do? If you won’t give me specifics, don’t criticize me for not serving!” This passage gives examples. Of course, there are many people—-and this can be me—-who may want to get involved in church as a way to fit in. That is all right, I suppose, but service should be about more than people trying to earn other’s approval. One should try to become more outward-focused, as opposed to being critical because one’s own needs are not fully met. Is that the magical answer to all discontentment with church? No, but it is a good life rule.