Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What to look for in a church

Beauty and the Beast. This is how I would describe this section of Christine Pohl’s book: Living into Community.The church is magnificent when the people of God live life the way God intends; but how ugly we become when God's people are deformed by unchristian ways of behaving. If I were church shopping (something I do not advocate) I would look for these behaviors to help me find a church home. 
4 godly practices 
In families, communities, and congregations that are vibrant and sturdy, we notice certain patterns in relationships. We see folks making and keeping promises, living and speaking truthfully, expressing gratitude, and offering hospitality. Some aspect of each of these practices is evident in almost every group of people whose connections or interactions with one another are more than temporary.
Strengthening these practices won't necessarily mark us as unusual or exemplary. Unless circumstances make a particular practice very costly to us, these practices are the ordinary, taken-for-granted dynamics of good relationships. We don't usually make a big deal over keeping a promise or telling the truth unless there's a problem associated with it.
In general, practices are most powerful when they are not noticed, when they are simply an expression of who we are and what we do, a way of being in the world and relating to one another that seems "natural." But, for a variety of reasons, we can no longer assume that these practices are affirmed consistently in the wider society, nor can we assume that Christians always recognize their importance.
Each of the practices is important to the biblical story and to expectations about the ways in which the people of God should live. Each is also at the heart of God's character and activity: we worship a God who is faithful and true, gracious and welcoming. Theologians and philosophers have often written about the importance of promise-keeping, truth-telling, gratitude, and hospitality, though rarely in terms of their roles in sustaining community.
The glue that binds 
These four practices do not address every aspect of community life, but they do hold together and intersect in surprising ways. If we consider one particular practice, the necessity of other practices becomes apparent very quickly. When communities offer hospitality to strangers, they soon discover the importance of truthfulness, gratitude, and fidelity. Speaking truthfully is difficult and often risky in the absence of commitment or fidelity to one another. Gratitude without truthfulness looks a lot like a manipulative form of flattery.
Practices that harm community
Certain attitudes and actions shatter community life rather than sustain it, and make life together unhappy and sometimes dangerous. When we engage in betrayal, deception, grumbling, envy, or exclusion, we violate connections between us. While we might describe these as practices, they are better understood as deformations of one of the four practices. For example, betrayal depends on and perverts a larger commitment to promising, just as deception and lying are parasitic on some notion of truthfulness.
In addition to the damage they do to relationships, these deformations also affect our capacity to engage in other practices well. Small deceptions and habitual grumbling make the practice of hospitality troublesome for hosts and guests. Even something as ordinary as complaining can become a way of life that eats away at the bonds that hold a community together. Deformations threaten to undermine every practice and every community.
Christine D. Pohl. Living into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us