Jan 112015 5 Responses

Stop Whining About the Church

For the past few weeks, I’ve seen this article–Dear Church, Here’s Why People Are Really Leaving You–shared and posted by many friends. While I normally do not respond to other articles, the unquestioned support of this article gave me pause.

I have little problem with the article if the author is diagnosing a few prominent issues which plague some churches. However, it seems as though he implies these problems are present in every church. It’s as though every church is failing and any person desiring to truly follow Christ in this culture has nowhere to turn. This premise simply doesn’t match my experience. (See: The Greatest Perk of the Pastorate)

The author lists five problems:

  1. Your Sunday morning productions have worn thin.
  2. You speak in a foreign tongue.
  3. Your vision can’t see past your building.
  4. You choose lousy battles.
  5. Your love doesn’t look like love.

Yet before discussing each of these points, the article begins with a premise no one has questioned–that people are leaving the church. While it is true church attendance declined through the 80s and 90s, it is not so evident that the decline has continued. Some studies say it has plateaued while others show growth.

There is a common assumption that society is in decline which causes many to assume the church is in decline as well. They read a headline confirming their assumption and few people stop to consider if it is true. While many churches and denominations are declining, many others are not. Many vibrant churches are growing and planting new congregations.

Maybe some people are leaving the church, but a good number of people are finding life inside the church.

The Problems

The author says the church has five problems. Let’s consider each.

1. Your Sunday morning productions are wearing thin.

While some might, I know very few who attempt to put on a Sunday morning production. Instead, believers attempt to do everything in their power to engage God in worship by exercising their giftedness in worship of God. For some this might include many elements of the arts but it is not a production the way the author uses the term in a negative way. (See: Try Not to Curse During the Baby Dedication)

On occasion, people will criticize our church for feeling like a concert. Whenever I know the person well enough I will respond, “It is a concert. A concert for God. Did you think it was for you?”

Some churches go to great lengths on a Sunday morning, but what the author calls a “production” might very well be someone offering their very best in worship. However, if you enter into a service thinking it is about you, then those services are likely to wear thin over time.

2. You speak in a foreign tongue.

I think this is the best point the article makes. The church does speak in a foreign tongue and we need to be very careful about doing so. However, everyone speaks in a foreign tongue. We can’t help it. We can be aware of it. We can do our best to change it. But we can’t be perfect. (See: Old Gas Stations, Dry Squeegees, and the Grace of God)

We form language from our experience and it is nearly impossible to see as that special language fails to communicate to others. It’s true for mechanics, sales people, engineers, and people of faith. Every profession or community forms a unique language. We need to do our best to speak in plain language, but we shouldn’t blame the church for what happens in every area of life.

3. Your vision can’t see past your building.

This is true in many churches, but not in every church. Many of the most vibrant churches don’t even have buildings. Others own buildings, but they are not the centerpiece of ministry or vision.

The multi-site movement gives a church the opportunity to worship in various communities and move past a single building-centric vision. I do not have a single friend in the pastorate who I believe is focused too much on their building. Each friend sees the building as a tool for ministry. Their vision is much broader than a building.

4. You choose lousy battles.

The author illustrates his point with fast food restaurants, hobby stores, and reality tv show debates. While each of these three have received major headlines over the past year, none of the churches I know of were involved. Political parties might have tried to leverage the issues and Christian thinkers rightly raised questions about religious freedom. However, the churches I’m around were too busy to boycot anyone or worry about a tv show.

The churches were busy feeding the hungry, ministering to the homeless, trying to find homes for the orphans, and buying toys for children whose parents were in prison. They were walking alongside the cancer patient by bringing her family meals and helping those struggling with grief by mowing a family’s lawn. (See: A Christian Response to an Atheist Billboard)

5. Your love doesn’t look like love.

I’m sure this is true in some places. And I have little doubt that the church I’m a part of struggles to properly love. However, on many occasions we do get it right. “Come as you are” isn’t just a slogan at the churches I know. It’s real. It’s why the church is often the friendliest place for the person struggling with mental illness. It’s is why the addict can find love and compassion no matter their struggle.

When I see a Boys Club gym filled with several hundred people getting clothing which the church has donated–that is love.

When I watch a church buy Christmas gifts for 300 children and then tell those children, “These aren’t from us; they are from your parent who is prison,” that is love. (See: A True Picture of Justice and Grace)

When I see a family leave the comforts of America and go to an undisclosed location to tell others about Jesus and to be sent there by the generous financial support of a church–that is love.

When I see someone welcomed into a worship service or home even though they don’t believe the Bible or agree with the New Testament definition of marriage, but they are respected, valued, and cared for–that is love.

What Church?

I have no doubt the problems listed by this author are true in many churches. I even believe the issues are a part of every church. However, I strongly disagree that these problems define most churches.

As I read the article, one thing deeply struck me–these issues do not match with my experience. As I look at the people I worship beside on a weekly basis, some of these issues are present some of the time. But we should expect that. We proclaim it with regularity–blessed are the poor in spirit. We make it abundantly clear that other people do not need to be like us. They, and we, need to be like Jesus.

This article has received great fanfare. And maybe it raises some key points, but it doesn’t resonate with me. To me it is a straw-man argument. He has made great points against a church that doesn’t really exist.

If that is his experience with the church, he needs a new experience. I have plenty of churches to which I could point that would show him a different way. (See: Every Pro Has Its Con)

It may not be a fair reading, but to me, this author’s article sounds like a pitch on Shark Tank. He has laid out his critique and I keep waiting for him to say, “There must be a better way.” Yet when it comes to Christianity there is not a better way. The church is the creation of Jesus and it is the way we have been commanded to go. The church is not perfect, but neither are we. She, like us, is always in need of grace.

5 Responses to Stop Whining About the Church
  1. Amy Lively Reply

    This has been bothering me for a long time. Most churches and churchgoers I know are deeply committed to active, vibrant ministry that is shining the Gospel in dark corners. I’m wary and weary of complaints, gripes and insults against The Church – His church, my church. For every vague accusation, there are countless real-life examples of churches who are doing the exact opposite.

  2. Jane Reply

    Many of my friends have posted the article you reference and I share your concerns. If the author looks at worship as a “production” he needs to have his perspective adjusted. I see God as an audience of One, those leading the service as the “stagehands”, and the hearts and minds of those sitting in the pews as the place where the dialogue and action occur. Worship has never been, and will never be, a spectator sport.

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  4. Nancy Reply

    MYchurch isn’t all those things listed as problems. But whooodoggies those churches are loud. They ARE the face of Christianity. Those of us that are quietly being the hands, feet and heart of Christ? We do so invisibly. So many of my Atheist friends and friends who have been hurt by those loud churches are continually amazed that neither I nor my local church are “like that”.

    And I disagree. Worshipping is not just for God. It is for those who seek him. And it doesn’t require a paid professional praise band or production room. THAT is for the glory of the men & women who built and paid for it. God doesn’t care about the media capabilities that rival CNN.

    Do good. Meet people where they are (and it isn’t in your Worship Center). Your church will grow. If that article doesn’t apply to you, move on. Continue to be too busy to worry about such things.

    FWIW. My fellow church members boycott Hobby Lobby, Chick-Fil-A & homophobic TV shows because they oppress & marginalize. They loudly proclaim their bastardization of the Bible & Christ’s teachings. They are free todo so but not with our money.

    Boycotting those who are the antithesis of Christ’s teachings isn’t something that takes much time. And it stops one from being a hypocrite.

  5. Scott Reply

    I do believe that some people will protect their idealist past regardless of the evidence staring them in the face. My college-age children and their generation have very interest in the church although they were “raised in the pews” from birth. To ignore this trend and just imply that their lack of interest is because they are no longer blindly faithful only proves the church’s refuses to accept and try to combat this trend. If you continue to ignore this problem and blame people for just not loving Jesus enough then you only contribute to this ever-growing issue. Loving God with blind faith is no longer enough. We have to stop being a fake holy people and just being people.

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