What does it take to make a church happen in your 20’s and 30’s?

Our church will be talking a lot about children for the next month or so. Not only do we love them, we know a lot of them. (They seem to be popping out all over like tulips). We want to stategize for raising them together.

Many people who have raised this generation of twentysomethings are second-guessing what they did. We can probably learn from them as we raise the next generation, since many of us are their children! A lot of Gen-Y/millennials (destructive labeling) seem a lot more helpless than expected, more than a few can’t work well enough or get along well enough to keep a job, and they expect a lot to be delivered into this moment they are living for. There may be reasons for this:

  • They may have been told they are special – for no reason. They didn’t display excellent character or skill, but now they demand special treatment. The problem is that kids assumed they didn’t have to do anything special in order to be special.
  • They may have been told to dream big – and now any small act seems insignificant.
  • Their parents may have made their happiness a central goal. Now it’s difficult for them to generate happiness — the by-product of living a meaningful life.
  • They may have been given every comfort – and now they can’t delay gratification. (Mickey Goodman)

Surprisingly enough, at our last Imaginarium, when we asked the question, “What is God saying to us?” we started talking about the same things. We are the “young” people who are learning new traits from God and one another that allow us to serve our cause. And yes, we think we are special and at the same time doubt anyone who says someone or something is more special than someone or anything else. We are often bumping up against the reality that we actually have to do something to live up to our ideals. A lot of what we talked about matches the quotes above. Here’s my summary of our rich dialogue:

Being and building the church is often hard — trust God

In the great scheme of things, we can’t instantly change the world. We have to take small, first steps – which seem like no progress at all to many of us.

One of us planted a tree in their back yard. Someone actually came into their yard, yanked up the tree and stole it! They had to figure out what to do with all their anger. They had bought the house, taken the step to plant something hopeful and now they had this irrational, cruel opposition. It was tempting to move out. Instead they managed to let it go and plant another tree.

stewingThe church has forces yanking on it every day. If it gets planted where anyone can see it, it might be  sitting duck for cruel opponents. We have to deal with that. The fact is, if it were easy to grow the church, that would probably mean we were doing it wrong. But easy is expected, nonetheless. The fact is, frustration might be good for us. We tend to think, “I don’t deserve this frustration. Look at how great we are!”  — sometimes we stew in that rather than acting in trust.

We need to risk being led by Jesus and leading people to Jesus. Even when we are ill, over-scheduled, or in the middle of chaos. We need to note how our distorted vision of our capability gets disrupted and take another step. We need to act on our few best ideas.  We need to admit that change = resistance — even our “second act” meets resistance although we all agree it needs to happen! We need to see that the domination system is likely to step on our sprout.

Encountering resistance to meaning is challenging — stay vulnerable

Happiness is not a commodity we can earn or deserve, really. It is a by product of living a meaningful life, a life for God, a life for others, a life for the common good, a life in line with with what we were given to be.

Nehemiah-wallOne of our leaders told the story of planting a tree in his sidewalk. He and the neighbors took a turn at sledging the sidewalk to bits. He saw it as undoing what true haters, the kind that paved his neighborhood a long time ago, have done. They got a tree in the ground. Two new people came to the cell meeting as a result. We are like Nehemiah and his allies re-building the wall around Jerusalem. The joy of the Lord is our strength. There is even joy in being able to suffer, able to sledge.

Unlike the domination system, we are killable. We are like sheep. We meet resistance with vulnerability.  A hospice worker talked about how vulnerable she feels whenever she enters a home where death is imminent. She has to let people know that if they trust her, she can do something. But it is not easy to trust, especially when the homeostasis is disrupted — as it so often is for us.

We obviously go through the same kind of resistance with God and others. Going through our internal resistance is much harder, even, than facing the outer. We do things in old ways and resist letting go of learned behavior.

The fact that it is bigger than just me is not always comforting — look farther than your reaction

Now it is time to relay the importance of waiting for the things we want, deferring to the wishes of others and surrendering personal desires in the pursuit of something bigger than “me.”

Our clean-up day T-shirts gave us a good example of doing something uncomfortable for the greater good. A surprising number of us are T-shirt resistant, even T-shirt phobic! If you grew up in a T-shirt wearing youth group you may actually want to run from people on the street wearing matching shirts. They look like some kind of overbearing, coercive army.

One person told a story, however, about how he met his neighbor when he was working on his house. The neighbor wanted to know what his shirt was about, after a while of getting to know each other. He was kind of “trapped” into talking about something bigger than himself because he was wearing his earth shirt as a work shirt.

ghosts on grassAnother person said they wanted to be marked. They want to demonstrate solidarity. They want to be in the coalition. They thought our T-shirt redeemed bad T-shirts. We like the idea of adding a colorful part of the big story. We are not the beginning or the end, but we are happening.

Sometimes being part of something big can be really hard — like we might be like a tree that gets ripped out and transplanted. That can be good. But it is not comfortable. Multiplying a cell always feels something like that for someone — getting ripped up. One of us said it was like C.S. Lewis’ image of “spectres” becoming solid as they acclimated to heaven (in The Great Divorce). We might not even know what true comfort is until we obey the voice of God calling us into what is truest about ourselves and our place in the world.

We are God’s children. Perhaps we were ill-raised. But what a great parent we have to usher us into an improved adulthood in faith!

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About Rod White

Pastor for Circle of Hope. Graduate of Fuller Seminary, PhD in MFT from Eastern University.
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2 Responses to What does it take to make a church happen in your 20’s and 30’s?

  1. Yes, your antidotes resonate with me: trust God, stay vulnerable, and look farther than your own reaction. One way I identified with your first point – that we have to take “small first steps” that don’t feel like much progress, on the way to big change – is that I recently reflected on why it is that I have experienced so much meaning-making through Circle of Hope. Besides maybe the more obvious “big” reasons, one of the actual biggest reasons is the just the sheer volume of opportunities being part of Circle of Hope gives me to be in the “line of (good) fire.” It’s not that every meeting I go to is life-changing, or that certain meetings are more magical than others – it’s just that – compared to anything else in my life – I put myself out there with/through Circle of Hope stuff so much more often than anything else, that, statistically, I’m bound to get hit by the “sowing seeds” once in awhile. It made me realize that transformation is made up of a lot of practice, a lot of routine, a lot of little steps, like you said here. Even if I only “feel” the change 1x for every 10 PMs/cells/team meetings I go to – that added up over 7 years is a lot of cumulative change! And that doesn’t take into account those seasons when me/we are even more fertile than usual.

  2. Circle of Hope says:

    Reblogged this on Circle of Hope and commented:
    Rod White’s blog …

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