How do you express your emotions? How do you express your thoughts?
I would think that throughout history, there have been an infinite number of different ways that people expressed their deep passions, desires, drives, feelings, urges, moods, longings, compulsions, cravings, yearnings, and aspirations. I have been recently challenged to consider how individuals grow and express their growth in a myriad of different ways. We all grow differently and express our growth differently. Yes, in Galatians 5, we are given a list of what should typify a follower of Christ, often called the Fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. But let me suggest the way each of these is manifested in different people varies dramatically.
It is for this reason that I struggle with worship leaders telling everyone in the room to…clap your hands or raise your arms or give a shout of praise or get on your knees or whatever the worship du jour expression is. I have the same difficulty with a church discipleship program which requires everyone to go through the same curriculum in lockstep together. The same feelings arise when the whole church does a mission day where everyone is recruited to serve on one of five projects that the staff has pre-selected. Lastly, we are told that we should get our community needs met by joining a group at the church like the seniors, men’s, women’s, young marrieds, singles, or any other demographic descriptor.
We should be engaged in these things, but let me suggest we are all wired differently and, therefore, will manifest different expressions in worship, discipleship, mission, or community. However, it is much easier in these four venues to create a program that corrals everyone together or in groups to be monitored or measured. For instance, it is difficult for a worship leader to know if everyone is actively engaged in worship if each worshipper expresses it differently. Or it is difficult to assess whether you are producing disciples unless you have a rigorous curriculum that people either complete or they don’t. And the same can be said of mission or community. We have bought into the paradigm of automotive mass production.
I am a degreed Industrial Engineer who was trained to standardize every part of a production process so we could maintain quality and efficiency to the optimal level. However, I am also a pastor, discipler, assessor, and mentor who has worked with many people in forming their spiritual life. People are not widgets!
I am currently finishing the book entitled: A Guide to Christian Spiritual Formation: How Scripture, Spirit, Community and Mission Shape Our Souls by Evan Howard. It is not for the faint of heart, but I can honestly say it is one of the best books I have read over the last fifty years on how people are formed spiritually. He fully understands my frustration above and gives some insights and guidance to understand how to meet individuals in their unique giftings, contexts, cultures, and needs. He is careful to give milestones and not formulas for observing spiritual formation in yourself and others.
People express their emotions differently. I am not the kind of guy to stand and applaud to express my appreciation. I will intentionally find the person and tell them personally that I was moved by their service and how it impacted me. So, when I am told to show my emotions in some particular manner, I simply resist. Part of my resistance is a result of my always wanting to be unique, so that is my issue. However, there is a greater factor here, which assumes everyone should react the same way.
I have seen this exemplified as I have worshiped in different cultures around the world. I have learned to participate with them without worshiping in them. The very different cultures, e.g. India, where everyone prays out loud at the same time, seem distracting to me. Not because it is wrong but simply because it is different culturally. I have been a student of how our culture and emotions impact our whole lives, including worship, discipleship, mission, and community.
Next week, I want us to think about why there are so many different types of churches. I really think it is related to what I have written here.