It’s back to school time and time, in our household, to settle into a new routine. Our daughter is off at college, for her first year. Our son is a sophomore in high school. And, my husband is getting back into teaching after a year of sabbatical.
One of the bigger changes we are facing at home is figuring out chauffeur duties for our son who does not yet have his license. Last year, my husband and I grew quite accustomed to our daughter driving her brother around—to and from school, to sports practices, golf matches and swim meets, etc. But now she’s six hours away, and we are left to learn anew how to get him to where he needs to be.
At church, we also settle into routines or, at least, search them out. We sit in a certain pew. We are comfortable with certain roles, but not others. We look forward to the familiar rhythm of worship and singing our favorite hymns. And, after worship, talking to our friends, and getting caught up.
The problem is that faith really shouldn’t be like that, and we fool ourselves when we settle into our predictable worship patterns and practices, as if that’s how to live our lives of faith.
It may sound cliché, but it’s true: faith is a journey, rather than a destination. We must then resist our tendencies to settle into routine. It’s not that routine, in and of itself, is a problem, but when we allow routine to close us off from the promptings and presence of the Holy Spirit.
If we haven’t experienced a moment of discomfort recently, if we haven’t faced an obstacle, we should not take it as some kind of sign that everything is going well. Instead, it is likely a mark that our faith is not where it should be, and our relationship with God is out of synch.
In churches that are struggling—struggling with declining attendance, and financial challenges, etc.—this is an unwelcome message. Church is where we want to feel comfort and familiarity. We desire predictability, to settle in and know that God is God, and that we are God’s people, in a way that feels warm, safe and secure.
Yet, it is in that settling in where we make our biggest mistake, and send ourselves only further into the struggle spiral. It’s not that church ought only feel off-kilter, but that we open ourselves to the new things that God is up to in our midst. As it has been made clear in scripture: God rarely works only in safe, predictable ways.
We ought not lose hope in our struggling, but to find in that struggle a new sense of what it truly means to be God’s people: to know that God’s people are always seeking and searching, always on a journey that offers a few surprises.
Whether we think about it as a roller coaster ride, or a ride on the Harry Potter Knight Bus (“Clench your buttocks! It’s going to be a bumpy ride!”), the life of a faith is an adventure, rather than an afternoon on a comfy recliner. You want new life? Then live it, breathe it, welcome it, and know that it will be different, sometimes strange, often challenging. It may not seem the path to security, but it is. The Bible tells us so.