My church is entering into a period of transition, and as is wont to happen, all sorts of stuff is getting shaken up in the process. I think of it like a snow globe that’s been overturned. With all the dust that naturally gets kicked up in times of transition, things we let settle to the bottom make their way into the air. Things that might get overlooked as we truck along from week to week. But when the snow globe is shaken, it’s an opportunity to assess where we’re headed as a church, what’s working, and what isn’t working.
This is normal and even healthy. As someone who writes about church cultural norms from the niche of singleness, it’s brought up some questions and stirred up my own internal snow globe. One of those is what is reasonable to expect from our institutional church–from the staff and the church members and myself as one of those members.
The vision and call for the church are compelling. And they are high. In John 17:21, Jesus prays, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (ESV). This isn’t a call to uniformity or assimilation. It’s a oneness that makes room for differences.
If you’ve been a human person for any length of time, you know this is a tall order.
When I think about advocating for singles in the church, and asking for what we need, it can feel like scrabbling for a finite amount of time, resources, and bandwidth. And it can feel weird. I mean, aren’t we supposed to be other’s focused? At the same time, you probably know that if we don’t express our needs and hurts, they can fester and turn to bitterness.
Three things come to mind as I’m noodling on all of this.
1. What would it mean for us as a church community to be a culture known for listening?
I read about this idea in The Listening Life by Adam McHugh. The idea was what the church might look like if we made more room for listening. Listening to each other, to our neighborhood, to God, etc. I think that a huge part of shepherding and care starts with compassionate listening.
2. “You can’t get milk from a hardware store.” -Louise Penny
Yes, we need to be a culture that holds its members accountable. Yes, we need to humbly ask who the current model is working for (and who it isn’t working for) and what kind of culture it is reinforcing. But I also want to make room for prayerful self-reflection–are there desires underneath my desires that I need to be aware of?
As a high-initiative person, it’s important for me to be aware of what is driving me to act, and where that impulse is coming from. For example, I might be saying yes to a million things because, deep down, I think that being helpful will lead to affirmation and approval without me having to ask for it. This can lead to resentment and frustration. Or, I might be saying yes to a million things because I’m worried I’ll be forgotten if I don’t prove my usefulness. This information can help us set boundaries and get honest about what’s actually going on within and around us. It can help us see what we’re really looking for, and therefore, better know what to ask for.
3. Cultivate a growth mindset.
If God is actively working in our individual and communal lives, we can assume there to be an inherent need for flexibility. If God moves in ways that are mysterious to us, there is a built-in invitation to remain open to continual learning and growth. On all levels. For me, the aggressively Type A achiever, it helps me release my illusion of control and invites me into humility. It takes the pressure off for me to know and plan for everything. And it gives me permission to pursue my calling sustainably. It gives me room to breathe and be curious.
There is a tension I feel myself walking between hoping for what could be while also accepting what is and what has been. Acceptance isn’t the same as minimizing. If anything, it’s more about freeing ourselves from responsibility for a change I don’t have control over. Otherwise, it’s easy to become so addicted to my own outrage, I’m unable to see the signs of hope all around me.
If you’re experiencing a transition, personal, relational, or communal, what kinds of things are getting stirred up? How can we manage our expectations without becoming cynical and bitter? How can we invite God into the process?