Normal doesn’t mean right, it just means normal.

Normal doesn’t mean right, it just means normal.

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Have you ever had a moment when you had to stop and ask yourself “How did I get here?”, where your picture of yourself doesn’t quite fit with the experience you are having?

I’m having one of those moments right now.

Leeanne and I, for the first time ever, have left the kids for four days and we are at a Prayer Retreat with 575 other pastors from all over Alberta.

As I mentioned a few months ago, I am now a pastor, but that fact doesn’t quite register yet, so I feel a little like an imposter in this group of people. It is so strange being at a conference with a different group of people than the Fusion crew. For 21 years I turned up at Fusion’s national and international meetings and I don’t think I realized how much those meetings were shaped by Fusion’s culture until being here. The way Fusion did things was normal, and I realize now that I kind of saw the way Fusion did things as the “right” way to do things. I knew intellectually that wasn’t the case, but I’m now realizing that assumption was there.

So here I am at a meeting of the Western District of the Alliance church, and its fascinating to see that here too there is a “normal” that is heavily influenced by the culture of the church. Both Fusion and the Alliance are all about seeking first the Kingdom of God, but both groups have distinct ways of doing things. There are the obvious and superficial things, like the fact that an Alliance Conference is held at Lake Louise in a Hotel (the photo is the view out my window), and Fusion meetings are usually either at a campsite or Poatina (both have their strengths and weaknesses), but what I am seeing more clearly in this phase of entering in to one group from being so enmeshed in the other, is that some of the core differences are to do with belief and how people see the world. In both groups there are assumptions about what is, and what is not possible, and while some of those assumptions are the same, some are different.

I can see that one of the things I am able to bring to the context of a local church are the belief systems that have grown in me as a result of being with Fusion. Fusion built in to me the belief that it is possible to change the world and whole communities in a pragmatic way because of the gospel. Fusion also gave me tools to work towards that end. Fusion also taught me to see God’s hand at work in the world outside the church and assume that churches could work together effectively and also work effectively with government, business and other parts of society. Fusion also taught me that very ordinary people can do extraordinary things. I am so grateful for the “normal” of Fusion that has shaped and changed me over 21 years.

I am already seeing though, that being a member of this particular church in this particular denomination is also going to shape and change me. I am seeing God at work, and I am finding him challenging me in new ways as I live outside of my “normal”.

In some senses it is really strange being at a conference like this where I don’t have to run anything and my mealtimes are not wall to wall with meetings. I am enjoying the fact that this actually is a “Retreat” and Leeanne and I are getting the chance to hang out in a way we have never done before. This is actually intentional on behalf of the district, they are very intentional in creating a schedule that is actually relaxed .

I guess part of it too is that in this group of people I am a newbie and not so many people know me yet. I am loving the experience of simply being a participant with a funny accent. I’m enjoying watching for what is “normal” among this bunch and I am finding God challenging me in new ways. I know that as I hang around this mob, their “normal” will slowly become my “normal” and I will be less conscious of the distinctive.

I am discovering that just like the way you see your own national culture more clearly from the context of another culture, there are moments in life when you transition from one organisation to another, and in those moments you are able to see things that are not so easy to see when you are in a “normal”.

The National President, David Hearn, is talking this week and he is focussing on the passage in John 20 that I have taught so many times as part of the Foundations course: Jesus appearing to the disciples in the upper room. Being so familiar with the passage I wondered whether there was anything new I would discover from the text as he spoke. It turns out there was a number of things.

One of the things he pointed out was the whole sentence in John 20:21 “Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” He pointed out two things implicit in this verse:
1) That (as NT Wright continually highlights) that the Kingdom of God comes through the cross, through suffering.
2) That Jesus’s mission was to bring Peace (Shalom) which is the mission to which we are also sent by the power of the Spirit.

The notion of shalom is one of “everything being in its right place”, its about a new normal in which what God cares about is what sets the agenda and direction of every aspect of life. He is wanting to create a new normal, a normal that reflects his shalom.

I think in different ways, Fusion and the Alliance both reflect the shalom of God, but because they are human institutions, they also have imperfections. I’m seeing more clearly than ever before that the task of Christ followers in any organization is to be willing to step back from time to time and to see and celebrate the unique ways that group reflects “shalom” and also have the courage to see where it doesn’t. Normal doesn’t mean right, it just means normal.

3 thoughts on “Normal doesn’t mean right, it just means normal.

  1. Obviously I identify strongly with a number of ingredients in this story Matt and most particularly the significance of differing cultural assumptions transitioning into a different Christian group. I’ve found it takes ongoing humility and work having eyes to fully see and appreciate the life of Jesus unveiled in a different organisational culture. For me it continues to be a journey combined of delight, surprises and sometimes frustration.

  2. Have been wondering how you’ve been going with the transition to a pastor’s position, obviously feels somewhat strange at times, but good to read how you’re settling into it and how much your ministry within Fusion has given you a real foundation for what is yet to come. Be encouraged as you walk the journey with a heavenly father who not only wants the best for you, but wants to bring out the best in you as you minister to those in your church. Love to you all as you bunker down for the cold months ahead.

  3. Hi Matt, Long time no talk.
    I have also been in this place of scenic as well as cultural beauty. But I was not at a conference learning any new tricks, just on a lovely guided tour admiring God’s creation. Going on a retreat from time to time; to withdraw from the hustle and bustle of life; the demands placed on us; the opinionated people; the fitting in the mould; to do what is expected of you; I think is entirely essential. However, retreats can also become a conformity so much so that we can hardly wait for the next one. A great time to compare notes, good and bad times, to catch up with the latest, to look over our shoulder, to get our bearing on the corporate ladder and put our feelers out for promotion etc. and then all the freebies, wow. Well, we are all human, aren’t we?
    We live in a world where conferences are the norm in all walks of life and all the more prolific in the higher echelons of learning. Yet, we have such a sophisticated and fast way of cyber space communication that we don’t really need to travel thousands of miles to exchange our ideas and experiences. Not only can we talk we can also observe each other’s body language. But you tell the politicians that. They spend billions of dollars travelling and what’s more at the tax payers expense.
    Does the church need to be aware that we don’t conform to this way of life.
    The other question is what do we do at these conferences? To me it seems a lot of naval gazing that is not necessarily all that productive. We can think of all the latest methods that have been successful bringing people to the Lord, but what works in one place does not necessarily work in another. I can think of great revivals in various places in the world that have subsequently been visited by clergy from other countries in an endeavour to learn from them and bring it back home, but it hasn’t worked. A bit like putting Jeannie in a bottle and release her when you get back home. As the Bile says; The Spirit moves where it wills” or words to that effect.
    There was a time when the disciples reported back to Jesus concerned they were not able to drive out an evil spirit and Jesus reply was that this kind of spirit can only come out by prayer and fasting.
    If we have need for a retreat should this be our focus ?
    God bless you,
    Jim.

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