Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Spiritual formation exercises vs. church activities

Every now and then I will hear from someone in our church who wishes we "did more" (I usually hear it second or third hand, of course). You know, "Why doesn't our church ever do anything?" Or, "Why don't we ever have the youth do anything?" and things like that. I think what they're really saying is, "Why don't we have more church activities?"

I am not against doing things together as a church, and, the truth is, these people don't usually ever seem to want to participate in anything I come up with anyway (and they certainly don't want to come up with anything on their own). But I think this thinking is part of what is wrong with so many churches. All they want are things to occupy their time and make them think they've done something spiritual. That way they can check off their "activity" and feel like they've accomplished something for the Lord.

However, when I think of most "church activities" I'm not so sure how spiritual any of them are. Nor how much they accomplish. Most of them are nothing more than "club activities"... and you don't need the church for that. They are things that are only for church people, and only about your own church group. But they seem to lack any formative element, or have anything to do with participating in God's redemptive mission in the world.

What I would like to do is, rather than have church activities, is to come up with more spiritual formation exercises for people (or maybe "practices" is a better word than "exercises"). These would be exercises designed more to help us be formed into the image of Christ. THAT is more my idea of what the church ought to be about. This is what our Midweek Meditation is designed for. It's not a "church activity," but an exercise/practice to help spiritually form us. I think our "sharing the warmth" ministry is much the same. Going to homeless and hurting people and sharing the warmth of Jesus love with a smile and a new coat or a pair of socks does as much or more for the person doing it as the person receiving. I am also hoping the "Practicing Hospitality" stuff I got from Roxburgh is similar to this. Things that move us more in the direction of 'loving God and one another,' rather than just filling up our time.

The thing is, I'm having trouble coming up with more of these spiritual formation exercises/practices. I know that different people relate better to different types of things, and I think it's important that we have a certain variety for people to choose from. Not a lot, but at least a few. So, anyway, I'm trying to think more in terms of spiritual formation exercises/practices, rather than mere church activities. People can find activities to do anywhere; I believe the church needs to get back into the business of helping people be formed in the image of Christ. But maybe that's just me.

Peace out; and in.

9 comments:

Carrie Jade said...

Weird - I think our church has quite a few activities. It seems like the same few of us are the only ones who go. I'd like to know who complaining :) But Maybe I better not...

Tom said...

I thought the "toss the ring across the sanctuary" game was rather formative. Or was that informative?

Pastor D said...

Read the wonderful work entitled Generation Me by Jean Twenge. She describes anyone born in the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s she draws on more than a decade of research to identify the challenges being faced by today's young adults and the people who raised them. When I hear “Why don’t we do…” more often than none it translated to, “ don’t make me think, rather, ntertain me…”

Carrie Jade said...

I don't think, in our specific church anyway, that it has as much to do with people born in the 80s/90s as it does with people born in the 50s/60s/70s. Most of the people my age (25) who are Christians are out and about doing church - not sitting in a church complaining about the church not doing anything for them.

living3368 said...

Just about every time you end a post with "maybe it's just me ..." I want to scream "No!!"

I've often looked at churches and wondered if the constant focus on activities isn't producing a faith that's a mile wide and an inch deep. Even mission trips can drift into a focus on what is being done rather than just being with people.

Anyway, I don't know that I have any ideas for spiritual practices for you. Just wanted to let you know you're not alone with these ideas ... for whatever encouragement that might be worth.

living3368 said...

BTW ... living3368 = Tammie

dan horwedel said...

I agree with Pastor D. about people wanting to be entertained (I hear it the same way)... but I also agree with Carrie that I don't think it's the young people. And I even wonder if a lot of middle-aged to older people have mistakenly 'thought' that's what young people wanted, when it doesn't appear to be true at all. In fact, it might be quite the opposite.

I'm wondering if it doesn't really have to do with age though, as much as it comes down to the role of the Holy Spirit. There are a lot of good "church" people, who seem to have no mind for God at all. All they see of church is the institution. To me, these are the people who think we aren't "doing church" unless we're sending the youth to an amusement park or having overnight pizza parties, and senior citizen bus trips, and making peanut brittle, and... whatever it is they think "real churches" should be doing. And it's not that any of these things are necessarily wrong. But they're not the point either.

BTW - I know who living3368 is, Tammie. I'm glad there are others just as messed up as me. :) I always appreciate your comments. As I do from all of you. Thanks!

patti said...

At the risk of my comment being too Catholic, I'll suggest Ignatius' spiritual exercises. Fr. Anthony de Mello, too, has exercises in the same Ignatian vein.

dan horwedel said...

Thanks Patti!