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Monday, June 21, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: 1 Thessalonians 5-2 Thessalonians 1

Over the past few months, I’ve had a growing realization about one of the challenges progressive faith communities face these days. This challenge had flown under my radar for the last several years as I focused my attention on other things.

What is that challenge?

The challenge is this: many progressive mainline churches have organized their life together by making the assumption that the people who arrive at their doorsteps have a lifelong background in Christianity. Therefore, they talk and act as if the folks who arrive have been in church all their life.

There’s a problem with this assumption. As I noted a few weeks ago in my blog, one UCC official said that 80% of 18 year olds have never set foot inside a church before. As that generation of 18 year olds grows up and arrives in our churches, there is an emerging need for progressive mainline churches to find ways to challenge their long-held assumption – and begin to engage/educate people who have no background in the faith whatsoever. That means finding ways to do a little Christianity 101. If we don’t, we’ll be talking and acting in coded ways that will mean nothing to younger generations.

That means congregations have a special challenge. How do we construct our life together in ways that account for the needs of those who have been in church all of their lives - who have decades of background in the faith - as well as those who just arrived who have no background whatsoever. That is the challenge!

On the surface, it would seem impossible to simultaneously address both sets of needs. Below the surface, however, Paul gives us some insight in his culminating words in today’s passage from 1 Thessalonians. “Get along among yourselves, each of you doing your own part,” Paul begins. “Gently encourage the stragglers, and reach out for the exhausted pulling them to their feet. Be patient with each person,” he advises, “attentive to individual needs.”

The key lies in being patient with one another. Those who have spent years in church will need to find ways to allow opportunities for the basics of the faith to be meaningfully addressed and incorporated into the life of the community. Those who have just arrived will need to find ways to engage rituals and traditions that are meaningful to those with a long history in the faith. In other words, individuals will have to realize (and respect!) the fact that the community must be attentive to needs other than one’s own. That is the challenge for each of us living in Christian community.

So how are you with this sense of balance between what some might call competing needs? Are you willing to extend patience to others as you live in community, or are you focused on your needs?

Til next time…

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