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