I have to warn you, this might be a tough read because I’m going to lay it all out there and share, as the pastor of a church, why I can’t stand my church… but please don’t stop at the first three paragraphs,
I can’t stand my church because sometimes I just don’t like the songs we sing. I want a worship experience that draws me into realizing God’s presence in amazing ways. I want that every week and some weeks it just doesn’t happen. I can’t stand my church because sometimes what is offered isn’t as great as the announcements promise them to be. Often the timing of events are super inconvenient for my family and me. I can’t stand my church because they talk about money and serving way too often, always asking me to be more involved. I can’t stand my church because it has a lot of hypocrites and people have deeply hurt me. I can’t stand my church because, as nice as people are, it’s still hard to deeply connect with people. I try to greet everyone, every week, but building strong, intentional friendship is hard. I can’t stand my church because, frankly, there is a lot that can get better, and I know other churches in the area that do “this or that” a lot better.
Now, you may read this and think that I’m saying all this in sarcasm to make a point, and while I am going to make a point, none of these “issues” are sarcastic, I genuinely exist in these tensions. What IS sarcastic is the statement “I can’t stand my church,” and it’s sarcastic in two distinct ways.
First, “I can’t stand,” is there to stir up some type of reaction to my statements that may reveal where you can fall prey to similar feelings. In other words, I used that statement to empathize with some emotions that you may be feeling toward your church. The reason for this is; until you recognize that you have these destructive thoughts you’ll continue to grow in frustration and anger to the church, not realizing that your heart may be hardening to God’s community. So, as you read my reasons for frustration, what stirred in your heart? What came to your mind about your church? What things are eating you? Identify them, then evaluate them in light of the second part of the sentence “my church.”
The second sarcastic part is the statement “my church.” Let me remind you of what Jesus says to Peter. “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build MY church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18- emphasis added by me). Did you catch that? Jesus makes a “my” statement that should have us cautious to hijack the term. The church belongs to Jesus, not you, not me. This is not MY church, this Jesus’ church. This is not YOUR church, it’s Jesus’. Now, you may say, “that’s just a semantic issue. I just use it because that’s how we communicate about where we worship.” While I understand that, I believe that it’s easy to use the possessive “my” to begin to feel like the church is here for you; like it’s a great church if it checks all your boxes and ultimately serves your needs. Yes, we are to love, challenge, encourage, share with one another and build each other up … BUT the church is not “my” church, it is God’s, and because of that, the central focus and role of the church is to bring GOD glory, not to perfectly program things for ME or YOU. This reality has HUGE implications on how to view and interact with the church.
HOW THIS PLAYS OUT
There are a lot of critiques that can be given to any church. If you’re anything like me, sometimes the conversations about “church” on Sunday afternoons revolves more around what I did or didn’t like or what could have been done better. These discussions arise from a “my church” mindset that has me evaluating the church experience based on everything I did or did not like. With a “this is Jesus’ church” mindset the evaluation of a good Sunday, or a good church moves from “my likes and wants” to “God’s likes and wants.” Simply put, if our focus is properly on bringing God glory and serving Him, then our post-church evaluative question changes from “Did I like that?” to “Was Jesus honored and glorified by that… by me?”
THIS IS A BIG DEAL
A difference in how we enter, participate and evaluate church is a big deal. Throughout the Bible there are times when God outright rejects people’s offerings and praises because their hearts are wrongly motivated, and their actions are duplicitous:
Amos 5:23: Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
Isaiah 1:15: When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.
Matthew 15:8: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.
By making ourselves, and our likes, the central motivation of church we act in a way that does not honor God. Are there things that the church can get better at? Yes. Should we strive to be excellent in all we do and does that take a critical eye? Absolutely. BUT our evaluation of church should center on honoring and glorifying God and our critique should follow suit. Any element of improvement should be evaluated with a desire to bring God more glory and to build His Kingdom. Here is a quick way to help you see if your approach may need correcting:
A “Do I like it” mindset
-Does this place “speak to me.”
-Is this place interesting enough
-How others interact with me
– Does it make me happy
-If I’m offended, I leave
Asking “do I like it” engages a critical mindset that usually has the “goodness of a church” based on your emotions: Hearing a worship song that really excites you or listening to a message that stirred something in you means that “it was a good Sunday.” The “do I like it” questions is really a two-fold trap.
First, your emotions can betray you. There may be something in a “boring talk” or worship experience that God is using to try to communicate with you and grow you. If feeling excited or emotional about something is the standard you use, you will miss God’s voice in the mundane. Also, there may be a lot of smoke and mirrors—presentations that evoke an emotional response but have very little or no God honoring truth to them.
Second, you may be making emotions an idol. If your emotional intrigue is how you evaluate your church, then your focus is on your emotions and not on God. Emotions are good, and God often uses them to get our attention, but by evaluating a church on how it made you feel, makes your feelings the focus. That’s an idol.
A “Does God like it” mindset
-Does it speak the Truth and Grace (The Gospel)
-Is this a place attempting to build the body of believers
-How I interact with others
-What God wants (of the church and me)
-If I’m offended, I work toward unity
Here are a few examples of how the “Do I like it,” and “Does God like it?” mindsets play out
Was worship good for me today? Was God glorified by my/ our worship?
Was that event everything I wanted? Did the event help build God’s Kingdom?
Was the time of that event perfect for me? Were there others that were able to make it and hear about or grow in Christ in a way that “my ideal time” matters less?
Why do they talk about subjects that are less than thrilling? What is God teaching me? How can I honor God by listening and asking Him to speak to me during this uncomfortable topic?
They are a bunch of hypocrites. I’m as undeserving of God’s grace as anyone, and I want to help encourage others to align their lives with what they claim about God, so I attend seeking opportunities to pour into others.
They hurt me, so screw them. I hurt Christ, and He died for me. He also desires for His church to be a unified, beautiful bride and I will not allow the pain I’m in to prevent me from deepening relationships with others and joining together to glorify Him.
“Does God like it? Does it bring Him glory? Am I bringing Him honor by the way I’m participating? Do we, as a church, strive to give Him the praise, honor, glory and exhalation that He deserves?” These are the proper questions because when we ask these questions, many of the things that “we can’t stand about our church” get exposed for what they are; attacks of the devil to get us to focus on ourselves, disunifying the body and dishonoring God. Are there proper times to leave the church? Sure, and there are a million ways to make things better, but the motivation to get better is not “because I don’t like it,” the motivation is because in all we do, in every church service we participate in, in every church community we involve ourselves in, we do it all for the GLORY OF GOD, not for “what I want.”
When I use this lens to look at the church I’m a part of, I can say: I’m thankful to be in a community of messed up people, desperately dependent on God’s grace, who are striving to live Jesus greater than everything. I’m glad we gather every week to worship God, learn more about how He wants us to live, and encourage each other to continue to build our faith. I want to make sure that these things are not just statements about what Real Life does but are statements about how I participate in the church in a way He would like. As a staff we are continually evaluating how we can make things better … but better for God’s glory, because of our love for Him, and because we want all people to joyfully honor God with all parts of their lives.
Because of these reasons, I love the church I get to be part of!