There are some buzz words from 2020 that are still lingering around almost a year later. I’m going to pick on two of these in a quick series over the next couple of days. We’ve heard words and phrases like: Unprecedented, pandemic, this is how you really love someone, and one of my least favorite New Normal.
What in the world is new normal all about anyway? And why would I want that?
The issue with new normal that drives me nuts is that we are a culture built on comforts. We want the comfort of consistency and predictability. The striving for a new normal really is our way of trying to go back to a time when things went as we wanted. We don’t want a new normal because that invovles change. What we want is the old normal on a new day. Let’s just be honest.
If you’re one of those people who’ve been using this phrase, then I likely offended you a little. And that’s ok it’s not personal. I like things to operate in a consistent pattern as well. I mean I have my own normal that I do everyday. I wake up, get dressed, head to the gym, home to shower, fire up the coffee, consume copious amounts of coffee, eat breakfast… You get the point. We all have a routine and that routine is what we think normal looks like. But routine and normal are not necessarily the same thing.
A routine is all about rhythm while normal is about controlling a situation and wanting your rhythm to be uninterrupted. I work in an industry, ok church isn’t really an industry but I didn’t know a better word. But I work in a field where normal or predictability and stability are really critical. We like our firm foundations and set structures. I mean many of us use systems that have been in place since the 1950s!
Now there’s nothing wrong with tradition but if you’re doing life the same way today that you did 70, 50, 30, heck even 10 years ago then you’re probably missing something really important! Part of my job is to serve as a pastor of a local church in central Ohio. The other part of my job on a very part time basis is to work for the larger organization that supports the local churches. So I get to see both sides of the spectrum. And what I’m seeing a lot of these days is a longing for days of old and calling it a new normal.
So many of our ways of doing things stopped being effective when the massive technology boom hit our culture more than a decade ago. Yet thousands of churches across the country were caught off guard when we had to swiftly pivot and launch some form of an online presence. We have focused so heavily on the in person gatherings that all we want is to get back to normal, but what if that isn’t the point?
Ok so don’t go all panties in a wad on me. Give me a minute. Why do we value in person large gatherings so much anyway? If we’re honest, then we’ll admit that what we measure as effective ministry is boards, budgets and butts. And we can’t do any of those well if we’re not in person in our buildings in large settings. We think that a good ministry is based on how many people are back in worship. Sure that’s a measure but is is the best measure of effectiveness?
The bible doesn’t talk about how many people are in a worship place. They talk about how many go out from that worship changed and live a different kind of life. The bible doesn’t tell us how many listened to Paul in the book of Acts but they do say that over 5000 were added to their numbers that day. Added to their numbers was NOT a phrase that meant church membership as a passive experience. It meant they were changed, transformed. They left that gathering as a totally different kind of person who saw Jesus and the power of the resurrection in all they did.
I firmly believe that for the church to be who we’re called to be we need to start focusing on changes lives and not how do we reopen our doors on Sunday or how good is our live stream. I really don’t think Jesus is going to stand at those pearly gates when we die and ask how well our online worship was or how many people came to church the Sunday after Easter.
So if the leaders want to serve the churches well and if the churches want to serve the people well, we need to all be focusing on what does life change look like. How can we help provide a clear path toward a more Christ centered life? How can we encourage and hold one another accountable to live a different kind of life as someone who gets the resurrection? We need to worry less about larger gatherings in our vastly underused sanctuaries and start focusing on connecting lives across generations and geographic locations.
If we as an Lutheran Church body, an Ohio District or a local congregation want to experience something truly abnormal then we need to be about the things the book of Acts describes. We need to value home gatherings, large and small group assemblies, spiritual growth through the spiritual disciplines. We need to grow deep in our faith and relationships not wide in surface level connections.
I do NOT want a new normal or an old normal on a new day because the Bible calls me to be abnormal. And I’d love to chat more with you about how we can live an abnormal kind of life together wherever you are.