Transformation and Church

Some of what I’ve been reading lately has suggested that many of the truly transformative leaps in people’s faith are accompanied by either significant changes in an understanding of oneself or within the dynamics of relationship, particularly in relational change and crisis.

When I look back on my own life, this makes a lot of sense to me.  Most of the truly transforming moments in my faith have been in the context of relational changes (sometimes drastic!) and deep changes in my perspective on myself.  Even those self-understanding changes were within the context of relating to God, so relationship is crucial to these quantum leaps of growth.

It started me wondering if the way we typically do church is actually conducive towards transformation of our hearts.  Unfortunately, I think the answer is no.

Information doesn’t change people.  It can guide how one changes, but it doesn’t create change.  That being the case, the heart of the evangelical service, the sermon, doesn’t foster transformation.  Neither do Bible studies, though perhaps if they are particularly relational, if the people are doing more together than just mining for insights.  Retreats that are centered around speakers, book groups, conferences, socials of whatever sort…  None of these are the kind of arenas where transformation and changes in our faith is likely to happen.  Singing in worship can bring about emotional change in a short term fashion, but changes in emotional state aren’t changes in one’s faith, just how one feels about it in the moment.

All of these activities that churches engage in have their place.  Like I said, information guides change, and if change happens, it’s good and necessary to have good boundaries and guidance on how that change is to happen.  The problem is that very little in church is geared towards being a catalyst for that change.  We have an abundance of guidance for something that may not ever happen.

Something in the church, therefore, needs changing, or at least adding on to.  If the church is to be serious about spiritual growth and formation, then relational dynamics and experience must become integral to how we do church.  Group experience needs to be not merely a context for information gathering and parsing, but a focus in of itself.  People’s real lives must come into the church and with the churchgoers rather than being left at the door to be picked up again on the way out so that we can bump up against one another and offer our desires, needs, hurts, fears, and joys with one another.

Where in the typical church structure do we experience one another truly and share ourselves in deep ways?  If there’s no good answer to that question, it seems like our churches are incomplete, and people’s lives won’t much change.

Of course, it also occurs to me with that sentence…  Do people want their lives to change?  There’s another interesting thought.


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