aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,
aefenglommung
aefenglommung

Managing expectations, creating expectations

I recently participated in an on-line conversation that began, "Why don't UM churches have Christmas Day services like the Lutherans?" I pointed out that, liturgically, the day begins with the sundown prior, so Christmas Eve is in fact the beginning of Christmas Day. The color should be White or Gold, not Purple; we're not in Advent any more.

But the whole conversation brought up all kinds of things. Some felt that Christmas is for families, and we shouldn't butt into their family time too much. Meanwhile, others felt that we ought to observe so signal a day. There is much to be said for both sides.

On the side of family convenience, we schedule most of our services to fit people's convenience. Most churches have worship on Sunday morning, beginning some time between 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. Why not at 5:00 a.m.? That would be when John Wesley would be at some pit head, preaching to coal miners. Ah, but then, Wesley wanted to gather with the miners before the shift change: 5:00 a.m. was actually the most convenient time for them to hear him preach. And 9-11 a.m. is generally the most convenient time for our people to come to church. So, yes, we consult the convenience of those we want to attract.

On the other hand, we have a liturgical calendar in order to organize time as a spiritual discipline. Those who are following Christ need to accept that being faithful in their discipleship is going to cost them something. That may mean that we are occasionally inconvenienced by a special service's time or date. We should remember David's words to Ornan when he insisted on paying for his threshing floor: I will not offer up unto the Lord my God that which costs me nothing.

I remember when I was a young associate pastor at a good-sized parish next to a university. We lost our senior pastor at the beginning of December to headhunters from a mega-church out west. The bishop and PPRC couldn't agree on a succcessor until almost Easter. For three months, I was the only pastor on staff. I was busier'n a one-armed paper-hanger, I can tell you. And Christmas was upon us.

I asked around about what the local tradition was. One set of people told me, "We always do a 7:00 p.m. family service, kind of informal." Another set of people told me, "We always do the late-night service with candle lighting and communion." So I organized and pulled off two Christmas Eve services, one at 7:00 and one at 11:30. It about did me in. That said, both were well-attended and appreciated. But then, somebody said, "It's cool how you did two services. We've never given people that choice before." I've been wary of "we always" and "we never" ever since. Clergy time and energy are finite, too, and while I believe that we were ordained to serve, nevertheless our convenience sometimes needs to be consulted, too.

The issue is larger than just Christmas. You'll notice that almost everything gets shoved onto the Sunday morning service in Protestantism. We have very few special observances throughout the year. I finally settled into a routine of Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday (sometimes), Easter Sunrise, Christmas Eve. There are plenty of other special days in our calendar we could observe, if we were of a mind to. But we don't.

We don't observe saints' days, for instance. What few saints we sometimes commemorate -- St. Patrick, maybe, and All Saints' -- we move to the nearest appropriate Sunday. This is contrary to the discipline in the liturgical churches, where special commemorations that happen to fall on a Sunday get moved to the next available weekday service, in order not to clutter up the Lord's Day with secondary matters. For that matter, we don't canonize people so much as causes. We have a World Brotherhood Day, and a Pastor Appreciation Day, and a United Methodist Student Sunday, and a Heritage Day, and Native American Awareness Sunday, and so forth. I can't bring myself to get excited about most of these observances, let alone make a special effort for any of them. And don't get me started on the tendency of churches to hallow civic holidays. Thanksgiving, okay, that's kind of religious. Independence Day, well, maybe. But Mother's Day? I give thanks to God that I'm retired and never have to attend another Mother's Day in church again.

Anyway, the church is an odd kind of enterprise. On the one hand, we have to respond to the expectations of our customers -- er, parishioners -- or there won't be any parishioners to work with. On the other hand, we are in the business of forming our parishioners into Christian disciples, who approach everything in their lives -- including their use of time -- around a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ. So, we need to communicate some expectations as well, since you can tell what you really value by what you spend your resources on -- including time.

I will not offer up unto the Lord my God that which costs me nothing has to be balanced over against, My yoke is easy and my burden is light and vice versa.
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