The hotel ballroom was packed. I was one of three plenary speakers at a conference for youth and children’s ministry leaders. In commenting on the alarming trend of churches hemorrhaging youth, one of the speakers said, “Kids who grew up in Christian homes feet like second class citizens in the church.”
He went on to explain the basis of his claim. The church, he said, finds the testimony of people who were radically saved out of a life of deep sin (drug addiction for example) much more exciting than the testimonies of Christian children who grew up in faithful Christians homes and avoided those sins. What does this say about how we define what is really important? Michael Horton, in his book, Ordinary, has an answer.
The tendency of the evangelical movement has always been to prioritize extraordinary methods and demands over the ordinary means that Christ instituted for sustainable mission… I am convinced that we have drifted from the true focus of God’s activity in this world. It is not to be found in the extraordinary, but in the ordinary, the everyday… We have grown accustomed to running sprints instead of training for the long-distance marathon.
You may have heard and prayed the Scriptures with your family each day, perhaps even learning the great truths of Scripture with your family each day, perhaps even learning the great truths of Scripture through a catechism at home and at church. Yet in the evangelical culture of the new and novel, none of this really counts. What really matters is the extraordinary spiritual event, that life-changing experience. In fact, your testimony is likely to be regarded as greater—more genuine—to the extent that the experience happened apart from any connection with the ordinary life of the church, like baptism, profession, the Supper, and the communal prayers, praise, laments, and fellowship of Christ’s body.
Real Growth Occurs in the Ordinary
Scripture contains many incidents of people being extraordinarily converted or benefitting from a life transforming moment. Enoch, Elijah, Naaman, the woman with a hemorrhage, Lazarus, and Paul the Apostle immediately come to mind. But the normative plan that God has given for transformation is, well, quite ordinary.
The Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20) is itself a call to the ordinary. When it says, “Go and make disciples” we can read “Go” and wrongly think only of extraordinary events such as short term mission trips or a missions emphasis week. But what is meant is more like, “As you go”. Making disciples is an ordinary process that occurs in the ordinariness of everyday life.
As parents, does it get any more ordinary than Deuteronomy 6:4-9? “Teach your children as you rise up, as you lie down, and as you walk by the way.” Jesus’ approach to discipleship was equally ordinary. His disciples just walked with him. The events in the gospels are mainly ordinary. Even the miracles grew more out of the mundane, ordinary path of life. Extraordinary blessings can be—and usually are—reaped from within the ordinary.
Examples of “ordinary” include:
- Reading Scripture together, daily, as a family.
- Calling the kids together for a family meeting and starting off with prayer.
- Working through a conflict about which lights (white or multi-colored) we are going to put on the Christmas tree this year.
- Conversations where hopes and dreams, fears and failures are shared with one another.
- Discussing the devastating impact that a neighbor’s job loss has had on his outlook in life.
- Taking time to stop what you’re doing to discipline a child.
- Listening to the word being taught in a small group, Sunday school or sermon.
- Giving attention to The Lord’s Supper.
- Being intentional about having a child baptized and/or examined for church membership.
- Visiting a sick or discouraged neighbor or church member.
- Writing your spouse an encouraging note.
- Helping a teenager through friendship struggles and decision
- Inviting a neighbor over for a meal.
- Praying with and for one another.
The significance of each of these opportunities is not always found in the moment itself, but in each one’s place as a link to others. There is a dynamic interrelationship that is usually indiscernible but absolutely essential. Collectively they weave together to form a tapestry that is actually rich and full. While we can miss opportunities, the problem comes when missing them becomes a pattern.
We really do need more strength to attend to these ordinary things than we need to do something much more “extraordinary”… and fun. Tish Harrison Warren captures this sentiment well, “Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.”
Why God Chooses Ordinary
God is glorified when we pursue the ordinary because it requires that we first be satisfied in God. Until we find our rest in God, our hearts will always be restless. Our attentions will be blinded by our own fleshly ambitions. We demonstrate ultimate satisfaction in God when we set aside our agenda in order to take these ordinary opportunities. God is also glorified when we wait in dependence upon him to do the transforming that he has already said HE will do (Phil. 1:6). This is an active–and expectant–waiting on our part. While we wait, we joyfully pursue the mundane knowing that God is using our efforts.
Two Promises For Ordinary People
Two passages immediately come to mind that provide hope for those who cultivate an extraordinary thirst for the ordinary.
Matthew 28:20. “I am with you always”. God’s Holy Spirit is with us always. He is our Helper in faithfulness. What a wonderful promise that we don’t have to muster the strength on our own because very often, we don’t have the strength for ordinary duties.
Galatians 6:9. “And let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season, we will reap if we do not give up.” That is a powerful promise that God will work. We will reap. God will accomplish his redemptive plan although that plan is almost never achieved quickly or easily in our lives. This is hard to remember in those situations where we’re in deep with other people.
Growth is really a process. When you think about it, the fact that growth is a process actually a good thing. We can fail. We can get up again, confess our sin, ask forgiveness, and work again toward Christ-likeness. Imagine how hard it would be if our growth and the growth of others was dependent upon us getting it right at pre-selected extraordinary moments? As it is, the ordinariness of life is a great blessing. Let us seek to be more faithful in the ordinary pursuits of the Christian life in the church and in the home.
Consider taking this simple self-assessment test to see how ordinary you are!