Preferences vs. Promises

In March and April our adult bible classes at church studied Christine Pohl's book Living into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us.

In the book Christine works through four practices that sustain vibrant Christian communities. The four practices are gratitude, promise-keeping, truth-telling and hospitality.

I'm keenly interested in all these practices but today I want to say something about promise-keeping and community.

Specifically, one of the questions I often ask myself about my church, which is reflective of most churches I suspect, is this: What binds us together as a community?

As best I can tell what binds us together is liking. We're at our church because we like it. Because we like the sermons. Or like the worship. Or like the programs. Or like the bible classes. Or like the people.

We are there--we are a "church," a gathering--because we like the same things.

Obviously, this is a very thin web of support--our liking, our preferences--that is holding us together. What happens when we get a new preacher and we don't like the sermons as much anymore? Or what if the worship style changes and we stop liking it?

What happens when the going gets tough? When sin needs to be confronted, when discipleship gets costly, when love gets sacrificial or when deep disagreements are aired? What happens when doubts deepen and faith grows cold?

Will liking be enough to bind us together during these seasons?

There needs to be something more than liking. So what might it look like if a church was bound together by promises rather than preferences?

Because love, it seems to me, is less about liking than it is about promising. 

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

6 thoughts on “Preferences vs. Promises”

  1. Me, I like the gratitude, truth-telling, and hospitality, but I'd assume that truth-telling includes promise-keeping (after all, promise-breaking is lying, unless there is a good reason for it): so my fourth practice would be forgiveness, not only as the beating heart of Christian community (along with [sacramental] food, according the Lord's Prayer), but also as the practice which makes Christian truth-telling -- not harsh but humble, not hurtful but gladdening -- possible. (See Bonhoeffer in Life Together.)

  2. This insight strikes right at the heart, I think, of my growing disillusionment (actually, it's matured to the piont of senescence, TBH) with just about everything in the orbit of the church-growth movement and what that movement has wrought in transforming modest-sized communities of mutual promise into huge "communities" built around catering to every social whim with some sort of religious program.

  3. "A good person will mean by a promise that s/he will be broken before the promise is. So a church that asks that of a person must be a place that is worth a person's life". Good...very good.

  4. this is great. It adds to something I heard Nadia say on a Norsworthy podcast. (This is a bad paraphrase) but she said something about the people in your church "not being the kind of friends you pick out in a catalog". I thought that was a brilliant way to put it. Even adds to the concept of "church shopping".

  5. As a Done, it seems to me that "promising" is a two way covenant. Liking, on the other hand, can be a one way street. We can like, or dislike, people, organizations, things, etc. They do not have to like us back. One of the issues that caused me to be done with "church" was not the hypocrisy often cited by Dones, but failure to hold up the articulated expectations offered up by leadership (or lack there of) within my church. Agreement without action is a failure of that promise/covenant, it is very disillusioning. Institutional worship, ("church") is in trouble, partly because of failure to fulfill articulated expectations. (Just one person's observation.)

  6. you know I just kind of like Malachi chapter 4 verse 2 that's a promise that I like.
    sometimes the church I just don't think anybody gets it. we're supposed to be having fun together.
    Albeit serious fun but fun nevertheless.
    sometimes I think we just take ourselves too stinking seriously.
    but then again I dunno what ontology means.
    oh well so much for fun there's so much to fix.
    ; -)
    Much big blessings Richard

Leave a Reply