Thursday, January 30, 2014

Not My Type

All of us have heard it: He/she is not my type.  There is nothing overtly wrong with the person; it is not that they are a sociopath or eat spaghetti with their fingers.  Nonetheless, they just doesn’t feel “right.”  Finding the right type has become a huge industry in America.  Dating services have become a $2 billion a year industry, employing over 3898 people in 2013.  Some services are specializing in particular types of people--Christian, Jewish, over 50, etc.  Finding the right type has become a highly sophisticated process involving exhaustive questionnaires and computer programs.  
Finding the “right type” is big deal. 

When individuals go looking for a church, they are looking for a certain “type” of congregation.  They may not think of it that way; they may not even know that they are doing this.  But, they do know when it does and does not feel right.  There are no questionnaires to complete or computer program to run.  People reply on the feeling they get as they walk through the door and begin to hear conversations and experience the worship service.

Israel Galindo, in his book The Hidden Lives of Congregations—Discerning Church Dynamic observes that there are six broad styles of spirituality, or types, that characterize congregations: (1) cognitive spirituality; (2) affective spirituality; (3) pilgrim spirituality; (4) mystic spirituality; (5) servant spirituality; and (6) crusader spirituality. No style perfectly captures any single congregation, but these 6 styles help us to understand our congregation and why some people connect there and others do not.  These styles are shaped by theology, doctrine, local culture, and/or a deliberate marketing strategy.  A congregation selects them, consciously or unconsciously, because that particular style has affinity with the members’ social world.  In other words, this style resonates with and makes sense of those people’s experiences and the world around them.  In this journal, I will discuss two of the spiritual styles, and then next time I will discuss the other four styles. 

Cognitive Spirituality: This style reflects the preoccupation of Western culture with rationality and scientism.  This “spirituality of the head” tends to emphasize, even perhaps overly emphasize, the cognitive component of effectual faith {Galindo, p. 106].  Attention is given to right concepts and doctrine.  Right belief rightly interpreted is a priority.  This style of spirituality is prevalent in mainline churches.  Worship tends to be liturgical with a lot of attention given to the biblical text itself.  The preaching has an overt teaching to it, and it is important for the preacher to appear to be well educated.  These churches have a strong Christian education program.  There is room in this congregation for seekers, skeptics, and doubters, because members have strong confidence in their beliefs and are not threatened by other beliefs or unbelief.  This is a church of people who know what they believe and can articulate that belief in a compelling way.  This spiritual style can, however, neglect the more emotional needs of the congregation.  It can fail to recognize that not all of the life of faith resides in the cognitive domain. This style of faith can confuse “cognitive” with “rational.”  Effectual faith requires attention to the affective, behavioral, and volitional components of faith as much as the cognitive component (Galindo, p. 107).

Affective Spirituality:  Movements within Western culture that have reclaimed for spirituality a heartfelt component have been renewing for our churches. Affective spirituality raises up the felt, pietistic, and devotional dimensions of faith.  Experiencing the faith is very important in congregations of this type.  Warm and intimate fellowship is central to the life of these congregations.  Feelings of intimacy and belonging and affirmation take precedent over other aspects of faith and church life.  These churches require pastoral skills that will engender and multiply these feelings.  Worship takes on the tone of celebration; it is enthusiastic, joyful, and unapologetically emotional.  Praise is a word often on the lips of people in these congregations. Unlike in “cognitive spirituality congregations” where hymns are chosen for their elegant texts in support of well-articulated orthodoxy and tradition, in “affective spirituality churches” the music is chosen for emotional impact.  They may repeatedly sing choruses that do not have profound meaning, but the music “moves” the worshipper to a deep experience of transcendence.  The prayers are impromptu, highly personal expressions that communicate sincerity and authenticity.  The first person singular “I” may replace the corporate “we” in public praying.  Priority is given to speaking of evangelism, the need for conversion, affirmation, or hope.  At its best, affective spirituality “shapes a hopeful and optimistic membership with an ability to embrace life’s challenges… [Galindo, p. 108].” It can, however, be dismissive of the content of Christian faith.  People lose the ability to discern between one experience and another, healthy belief and unhealthy belief.  You can end up with a situation where one experience is as good as the next.  “Without the corrective that critical discernment provides, members are at risk of not appreciating that some experiences ennoble us, while others diminish us—even though they ‘feel’ good {Galindo, p. 109].”

Next time we will look at the other four spirituality styles.  None is perfect, but looking at them helps to understand our congregations--what we are and what we are not.  Begin thinking about the spirituality type of your congregation.

Jim Kelsey

Executive Minister

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Passing of Seasons

I didn’t park the car and go in with him; I left him curbside at the terminal.  I was taking my older son to the airport after Christmas to fly to California to visit with his girlfriend’s family.  From the time our children learned to crawl and then to walk, we have been letting them go, setting them free to become who God created them to be.  As I dropped my son off, I realized that the day would come when his mother and I will not be the primary relationships in his life. I became aware of the passing seasons in our life together.  The writer of Ecclesiastes noted this long ago:  “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven [3:1].”

2We are always transitioning through a particular season--saying goodbye to what is familiar and comfortable and embracing that new and unknown thing that God is bringing.  We live in this matrix of grief and hope.

Marie, the narrator in Alice McDermott’s book Someone, is lying in a hospital bed in Brooklyn with both her eyes bandaged after surgery; and she writes:
Somewhere in the room during those long days of bandaged blindness, my children sat, talking mostly to one another, mostly about where they had managed to park their cars and what time they had left home, what time they should head out again to avoid the traffic: tunnel or bridge, the Southern State or the L.I.E.  I heard the bustle of their winter clothes, zip and unzip, buckle and snap.  There was the jingle of car keys and the odor of exhaust.  I listened to their familiar voices with a vague indifference.  Rattle and clink.  It was my first sense of their lives going on without me.
There is something reassuring about the realization that the world will go on without us.  Our lives are a sequence of seasons that someday will exhaust themselves, but the families we have built, the people in whom we have invested, and the churches for which we have sacrificed will all go on without us someday.  The investments we make will enrich a future we will never see.   

As you pass into the season of a New Year and all that it will bring for you, may the faithfulness of God surround you and the hope embodied in the Christ child sustain you!

Jim Kelsey
Executive Minister, American Baptist Churches of New York State