I have been thinking about this whole topic of church for a very long time… and I kept procrastinating about writing down my real thoughts… partly because this could be a very sensitive subject, and I could offend a lot of people out there. In addition, my vocation is in ministry, so I, of all people, am not “suppose to say anything negative” about church (at least not out loud)… but this has been so in my face lately that I just felt the need to let it out!
In the past few months, I’ve had about dozen conversations with friends and acquaintances who all have stopped attending church. It’s not that they don’t believe in Jesus anymore… but due to circumstances or because they just can’t find a church where they can connect, learn, and grow. If they had told me this few years ago, my response would have been, “suck it up! there are no perfect churches out there… and you’re probably the one with issues so just get over it!” Now, after having visited many churches for the past 7 months, I have a lot of sympathy for my friends. In fact, I have even uttered these words: “a lot of churches just suck… and it just feels like many are playing church!” yes… i actually said those words out loud…
Before I continue, I have to make clear that I DO believe in the Church, even with all of its imperfections. And regardless of all the weaknesses of churches, God continues to do beautiful things in and through them… so I don’t mean to criticize all the churches. And I know that there are some great churches out there! Recently, I read a friend’s blog, and I think he sums it up pretty well in regards to people’s hangup with church (yes, I got his permission to use an excerpt!):
*Morality -> Judgment -> Fakeness -> Guilt/Shame. Most churches and church-goers that I’ve seen are more concerned with morality (or their version of it) than about genuine growth, never on paper but always in practice. I tend to associate church with judgment more than anything else. For a religion that starts with the idea that all men are evil and broken, everyone seems to have their stuff together and in turn seems to expect the same from everyone else. Perhaps it’s my own fault, but I don’t feel comfortable being myself at church. I don’t feel accepted as me. I have to put the mask on and play by the rules. I almost feel like I have to apologize for being who I am and get the sense that I’m not “good enough” to be at church, which makes zero theological sense and is really the opposite of what church should be about. I’ve told a lot of people that I would probably find more spiritual substance at an AA meeting than a church service. I don’t need or want to “play church” every Sunday with all the other actors (To be fair, I’ve known several exceptions, but I’m speaking for the vast majority). And I’ve gotten past feeling guilty about not going, so that’s no longer a reason for me to go.
*More religion than relationship, more performance than partnership. Church services, probably by necessity, tend to feel more like a routine series of events than a true celebration of life and community. Half the people seem to be there to blindly follow whatever they’re taught while the other half are there to expand their social network. When my students ask me if I’m Christian, I respond by saying, “It depends on what you mean by ‘Christian’.” (I really hate that title… it carries a lot of baggage for me.) Christianity to me is not a “religion,” and church is not about ritual. I do know that I’m far from being perfect and am loved anyways.
Unfortunately, I completely echo his sentiment! I’ve heard some disturbing, sad stories from my friends in the past few months. Many have left because they can’t find churches that are authentic, relational, and real. They feel judged, they feel like pastors care more about programs and numbers than people, they feel like they’re not good enough to be at church… part of this may be perceived… but I don’t think it’s an accident that I’ve had so many of these conversations in the past few months. Some churches are really missing the point–actually most of us Christians are missing the point… because isn’t Christianity about God who loved us so much to send Jesus to take away our sins through His sacrifice–LOVE??? If we can’t love people, then I don’t think we’re doing a good job of being the Church… what good is teaching the truth if we can’t demonstrate the truth in love?
The morning after I posted this blog, I came across this interview. Definitely worth a read: