Saturday, January 28, 2012

Church Language - Expectation

In the proper context, expectations are a good thing. My wife expects me to keep myself alive so we can grow old together. My voice teacher expects me to practice between lessons. My friend Matt expects me to write music periodically. I have granted these people the right to expect certain things of me, so it doesn't bother me in the least when they vocalize those expectations. "You gonna treadmill tonight?" "How's the breath control coming?" "When are you going to upload new music?"

When I don't live up to those expectations, I feel a twinge of guilt and I resolve to do better. Then I'm thankful to have someone who is paying attention.

In my experience in Evangelical churches, people seem a little fuzzy on where other people's boundaries are. Even as first-time visitors, Sarah and I are nearly always treated to this wonderful gem after shaking hands and exchanging names:
Congregant: So, do you guys have any kids yet?
One of us: Nope, we have a dog and a cat.
Congregant: Oh, well hopefully soon!

Another variation involves asking when we plan on having kids, and asserting that God will change our minds.

If we attend for any period of time, eventually someone discovers that I play guitar.
Person: You play guitar? Awesome! We'll have to get you on the worship team sometime!

Note the phrasing: "yet" indicates an expectation that we will have kids; invoking God makes it a moral mandate. "We'll have to get you..." assumes that possessing a skill means I want to lend it to them and destroys any concept of self-determination I may have.

And it continues. What night is good for you to join a small group? What are you bringing for the potluck? When are you taking a turn in the nursery (this one typically only applies to Sarah)?

It applies at every stage of life. I remember adults constantly asking other people's kids about their romantic lives, usually to express their distaste for teenage dating... and then, the minute these kids graduated from high school, asking when they were going to meet someone of the opposite gender and embark on a heterosexual marriage.

They'd ask what college we wanted to go to, just make sure we were planning on a Christian college. Bonus points if it was Bible college.

They'd ask what music we were listening to and whether it was "Christian".

They'd ask why we would possibly want to watch R-rated movies.

They'd ask anything, and they would do it in such a way that it expressed their opinion of what we should be doing.

Eventually, they'd drop the pretense and start prescribing. And then one morning you wake up and you realize one of two things:
1) The life you lead has been tailored to the preferences of a bunch of people you barely know.
2) You have been lying about who you are to an awful lot of people.

Either way, the only thing that eases the tension is to cut and run.


  1. Growing up in the Catholic Church it was less about expectations of behavior and more the expectation that we would know how to live adult Catholic lives (no sex before marriage, no condom use even in marriage) without much coaching or even any community to support us. I know that youth groups can be dangerous, perilous places, but Catholic churches rarely have them at all.

  2. Oof. You're right.

    While I understand that they are trying to "get people involved in the church community"... It seems like there's something missing. The most recent church we went to, when they found out my husband played guitar, without even getting to know him they took his email address and set him up on the schedule for the worship team.

    The college thing was huge too. I remember our parents being so concerned when we indicated that we wanted to go to a "secular school". The professors would surely sway us from our faith and clearly all we wanted to do was party, because, why else would you ever want to go to a non-Christian school?


  3. @Kate
    We had some stuff like that, too. Not sure if they were Protestantisms or just Evangelicalism..isms. It was some seriously metaphysical stuff bogged down in Christianese. You have problems? "Lay them at the foot of the cross." Really? How? What does that mean? Well, you just... do it.

    Being a guitarist is so weird. On one side, you get people putting you on a pedestal and paying you awkwardly pious compliments (i.e. "You have been anointed by God to play guitar"), and on the other you have people treating you like a commodity and auto-committing you to the Sunday rotation, special services, out-of-town events, and whatever else comes up that might possibly benefit from a stringed instrument.

    At the last church I was going to semi-regularly, I kept the whole musician thing under wraps to avoid something like you described happening, and I felt like I was lying about myself. It really is a no-win situation (unless you have the time/energy/desire to join the band, of course).