I’ve been thinking a great deal, in recent years, about expectations and the way that churches and other institutions play an enormous role in shaping them. Indeed, I worry that too many churches are promising too much and are therefore creating false, unrealistic, and even damaging expectations. What happens when every worship service has to be “powerful,” “moving,” and “entertaining,” every mission trip “life-changing,” and every sermon immediately “applicable?” How are Christians to develop classical virtues like perseverance, courage, and even faith when we are taught that the Holy Spirit should be identified, primarily, with exceptional experiences, great revivals, and world-changing action? In the absence of these, are we to conclude that God’s presence is no longer with us – the God that Christians believe is always present and “nearer to us than we are to ourselves?”
The text below is an excerpt from a great post by Trish Harrison Warren, a worker with Intervarsity Graduate Fellowship. The post is titled Courage in the Ordinary, and the whole thing is well worth a read. Feedback would be most welcomed.
Soon after college, one of my best friends who is brilliant and brave and godly had a nervous breakdown. He was passionate about the poor and wanted to change at least a little bit of the world. He was trained as an educator and intentionally went to one of the poorest, most crime-ridden schools in our state and worked every day trying to make a difference in the lives of students who had been failed by nearly everyone and everything — from their parents to the educational system. After his “episode,” he had to go back to his hometown and live a small, ordinary life as he recovered, working as a waiter living in an upper-middle class neighborhood. When he’d landed back home, weary and discouraged, we talked about what had gone wrong. We had gone to a top college where people achieved big things. They wrote books and started non-profits. We were told again and again that we’d be world-changers. We were part of a young, Christian movement that encouraged us to live bold, meaningful lives of discipleship, which baptized this world-changing impetus as the way to really follow after Jesus. We were challenged to impact and serve the world in radical ways, but we never learned how to be an average person living an average life in a beautiful way.
A prominent New Monasticism community house had a sign on the wall that famously read “Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.” My life is really rich in dirty dishes (and diapers) these days and really short in revolutions. I go to a church full of older people who live pretty normal, middle-class lives in nice, middle-class houses. But I have really come to appreciate this community, to see their lifetimes of sturdy faithfulness to Jesus, their commitment to prayer, and the tangible, beautiful generosity that they show those around them in unnoticed, unimpressive, unmarketable, unrevolutionary ways. And each week, we average sinners and boring saints gather around ordinary bread and wine and Christ himself is there with us.