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Mine, Yours, Ours: What do we need, expect and receive from our religious communities?

Everyone who belongs to a religious community has expectations of that organization whether is a church, synagogue, mosque, temple or meeting. We belong for a reason and we come seeking specific things.

That makes a lot of sense until we multiply it by 50, 200, 1000 or however many people belong to your congregation.

Some of what we expect is clearly articulated by the mission and vision of the religious organization. But much is unspoken. We might expect people to share similar values and to have our values lived out there. We might expect to be accepted, appreciated and loved, and have a clear view of what that will look like in practice.

Needs and expectations vary among people in a particular group depending on their past, and present life experiences and visions of the future. A young couple may join a congregation to have a community in which to raise their child with important moral values.

A single adult may come seeking companionship or a place to get involved in meaningful activities. An aged widow may get involved in part to have a religious home where she can receive end of life support, a funeral and burial.

If you were born and raised in a particular religion you will likely have very clear expectations of this religious institution based on past experience.

On the other hand, if you grew up living a secular life and joined a religious community as an adult, your expectations may be based on participation in other groups, stories others have told you about their own congregation or things you have read.

No matter who you are or what religious organization you belong to, some people will hold very similar needs and expectations to yours and other people will have very different perspectives.

Balancing the needs and expectations of diverse people can be tricky, but it is also one of the most crucially important parts of belonging to a religious institution.

As an individual, I moved to a new city and found a church where I share similar religious values. I expected to find spiritual inspiration, a loving community and some new perspectives.

When I joined I became part of a group. My individual needs and expectations are only one small piece of a much larger picture. I don’t personally agree with everything that is said or done there.

The church I belong to is not my community, but our community, shared with 1,300 other people. We can’t all have exactly what we want and think we need. Some of our wants and needs are mutually exclusive. At the same time, I find in my religious community so much more than I could imagine or attain on my own.

What needs and expectations do you have of the religious community you participate in?

What do you think others in that community need or expect? What needs and expectations are compatible and which ones might be mutually exclusive? How can you support each other despite your different perspectives?

What can you now celebrate in your religious organization that you weren’t originally looking for and maybe didn’t even want at one point?

 It’s not mine. It’s not yours. It’s ours.

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