Thursday, September 22, 2016

High Expectations, No Judgment

In about a week, my congregation is embarking on a journey.

We are going through a program called "Committed to Christ".  We'll be journeying together on Sunday mornings, but some of us as well will be studying together in small groups, and some perhaps will be doing daily devotions with their families.

In the interest of full disclosure, I need to confess that when I first looked at "Committed to Christ", I did not realize that it was a certain kind of Stewardship program.  I only knew that it was dealing with  some of the faith practises of discipleship, and that it fostered participation in small groups.  I was really interested in getting some small groups activated this fall.

Each week, people in my congregation are going to be encouraged to make a deeper commitment to Christ in some area or another of discipleship:  one week it might be prayer, another week reading the Bible more frequently, and still week, on increasing our commitment to serving others.

As I was studying the materials, I was also struck by a particular terminology used:  the book talks about being a "high expectation" congregation.

Now, I know what this means.  This means we want to be a congregation that expects people to do more than just come to worship on Sunday morning.  We want to be a congregation that expects people to live out their commitment to Christ every day of the week, and in more than one way.  We want to be a congregation that is hungry for God, to know and follow Jesus more nearly.

What could possibly be wrong with that?

Nothing, really.

Except.... well, I'll be honest.  I worry a little about the possibility of creeping judgmentalism in a high expectation congregation.  While I love for us to have higher expectations of ourselves as Christians, and I want people to want to worship more,  pray more, serve more, and learn more, I worry a little about our predilection to measure ourselves or others according to these high expectations.  And there is so much we don't know.

When someone doesn't come to church every single Sunday (and by the way, perfect attendance has become increasingly rare), we don't know if it is because they have had to take a second or third job, or because their child had a meltdown right before church, or because they were worshipping somewhere else this week.  When someone doesn't want to sit on a particular committee that is near and dear to our heart, we don't know if it is because they are already overloaded at work or home, or because there is another cause that is nearer and dearer to their hearts, or for some other reason.

Then I worry too that we give the impression that, for the most part, discipleship is about hanging around church a lot.  I wonder if this study will make us ponder what it means to be disciples in our daily lives, in our families, at work, in our community?   Our high expectations for ourselves might be different than someone else's.

And then there's grace -- my favorite thing.  I love grace even more than I love high expectations, and being a high expectation church.  Maybe for me, a high expectation church would have these high expectations -- we would worship more, pray more, serve more, give more -- and we would expect that we would fall down on the job.  We would expect that sometimes we would be bad at it, despite our best efforts.  We would develop high expectations for mercy, and forgiveness, and develop a deeper trust in God who loves us when our prayers fall flat, when our well runs dry, when we fail to show up, when we have nothing to give.  We would develop high expectations for mercy, and forgiveness, and perhaps even learn to extend that mercy and forgiveness to others.

That is the kind of high expectation church I want to be -- starting with myself.

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